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Thwaite's glacier can help predict global sea level rise



Editor's Note: The world's Carolyn Beeler arrives aboard Nathaniel B. Palmer for a seven-week research expedition to the Thwaites Glacier in January to March. Join her on The World, TheWorld.org and Instagram, @pritheworld. Do you have a question about Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica, life on the ship or anything else? Send a voice memo or email to myworld@theworld.org, or leave a message to her at 857-285-4157.

Researchers this winter began a race against time to better understand a massive and unstable glacier that could change the world's coasts for decades.

An international research group launched a five-year $ 50 million project to study the Thwaites Glacier, a remote and famous, gorgeous glacier in the middle of western Antarctica.

"It's about the size of the UK island," said Ted Scambos, a researcher at Colorado University and co-founder of the International Thwaites Glacier Cooperation.

Related: When the Greenland ice sheet melts, the scientists push to learn "how fast"

"It is a large area. When you add something like half a mile to a mile of ice over all this … that's what we are going to get and put into the sea. "

And because of the nature of the bedrock during it if Thwaites begins to collapse, it can go fast and contribute about 2 meters globally sea ​​level rise of as little as 50 years, said Scambos.

"That's the problem. Having a sea level rise is not a big issue as it is rising fast, faster than we can react or plan or build," says Scambos. "And that's why Thwaites become very important because it may be a real turbocharging effect on how fast the sea level rises around the world. "The ultimate goal of the Thwaites project, which Scambos has won for years, is to develop more precise global sea level elevation models so that coastal populations and governments have enough time to Plan for Future Changes.

Related: An environmental magazine is fighting for freedom of the press in the Russian Arctic

In cities like Miami, perhaps the American city most vulnerable to sea level rises, infrastructure decisions are taken as early as 50.

"Finally, the challenge is to understand the melting of Antarctica so that we can better f rutsäga rise in sea levels over the coming decades and century. "

Karen Heywood, Oceanographer, University of East Anglia

" Finally, the challenge of understanding the melting of Antarctic tic ice is that we can better predict the rise in sea level over the next few decades and the century, "says Karen Heywood, an oceanographer. at the University of East Anglia participating in the research.

A "Phenomenal Effort"

The research is funded by the United States and the United Kingdom's state scientific bodies, and over the next five years, eight research groups, each led by a British and an American researcher , trying to answer important questions about the glacier, including how much changed ocean circulation patterns and heating temperatures melt under the underside of glaciers, how "pin points" or ridges in the seabed below the land-based part of the glacier will affect its destabilization, and how to predict or model a potentially rapid collapse at the glacier's surface

So far this winter, hundreds of thousands of kilos of fuel and equipment have fled to Thwaites on 35 journeys of US military transport plan equipped with skis and delivered by British ships to the floating sea ice in the Antarctic border.

"It's a phenomenal effort from both countries, Britain and the United States," Scambos said.

The stores will be stored on ice next winter – Antarctica summer – when the season at the top of the glacier begins seriously.

Related: When the arctic warms up, a "new sea" will bring new trade to the top of the world

Under the ice shelf

But studies on the glacier's face and the sea during it begins in a few weeks, aboard an American research vessel with icebreaker capacity called Nathaniel B. Palmer.

Karen Heywood, from the University of East Anglia, comes with a project that will focus this season on how much warming of sea water under the ice shelf's floating lip melts on the underside of the glacier. Right now, no one knows exactly how deep the gigantic underwater cave below Thwaite's edge is, or what the seabed beneath it looks like.

"Under the ice shelf we know almost nothing at the moment."

Karen Heywood, oceanographer, University of East Anglia

"Under the ice shelf we know almost nothing at the moment," Heywood said.

At the research cruise, one of Heywood's co-workers, a Swedish scientist named Anna Wahlin, will test a robotic boat called a HUGIN that will eventually navigate under the floating ice shelf.

"There have never been any measurements or any instruments sent under the Thwaites Glacier ice shelf and that's really why it's so exciting," Heywood said.

Heywood's team will also label seals with sensors that will collect and transfer temperature and salinity data back to researchers for up to one year.

Another research group, led by Uni versa of Houston Julia Wellner, charts the seabed with sonar technology and collects sediment cores to learn how the ice reacted when it encountered hot water earlier.

"Did it [destabilize] take it a step back when there was hot water reached it before," Wellner said. "Or was it in any way possible to resist the earlier hot water intrusion?"

A third research group will visit islands near Thwaites to seek organic material, such as penguin legs and seashells, to better understand historical sea level fluctuations in

The results of research are expected to begin to trickle out before the end of the year.

Thwaites, a "lynchpin"

This data can help predict the future not only for Thwaites, but for the whole of Mexico -sized, West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

"Thwaites is something in this lynchpin position," said Scambos. "And if we lose the Thwaites, it's like taking the middle of this ice. Other areas of the ice will also collapse."

A complete collapse of Western Antarctica would drive sea levels of 10 to 11 feet, Scambos said. It would probably take centuries but it can happen faster.

"The worst case may be 100 years from now, that you would get so much water in the sea. We do not have a high confidence in it. It may be that we have longer It may be that we do not have so long, says Richard Alley, another collaborator of the Penn State University project.

"We are not sure what is the black swan, the absolute worst that could happen to Thwaites. "

Richard Alley, Penn State University

" We are not sure what is the "black swan", the absolute worst thing that can happen at Thwaites, "Alley said." We really hope that this five-year research collaboration gives us much insight into [that]. "

Researchers have shown how important Thwaites are for years but" there is still not so much data about what we would like as it is so difficult to access, even according to antarctic standards, "Wellner The news to do research in such a remote place and the urgency of the problem they are trying to solve makes the research exciting, she said. But it also puts pressure on the 100-plus researchers involved in the project.

"It is this great print that we need answers soon, "Wellner said." There is no more pressure to get it right than normal, but there is more pressure to be quick about it. "

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