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SHOCKING! Climate Change DEVASTATES Glaciers! Find Out the Unbelievable Consequences!

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SHOCKING! Climate Change DEVASTATES Glaciers! Find Out the Unbelievable Consequences!

Glacier Monitoring and Sea Level Rise: Insights from a Physical Oceanographer

Glaciers are disappearing worldwide, posing significant questions about how scientists track these changes and their impact on global sea level rise. In a recent episode of The Big Questions, the podcast by IFLScience, Dr. Peter Davis, a physical oceanographer from the British Antarctic Survey, shares his research on Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica and sheds light on these crucial concerns.

Monitoring Changes in Ice Shelves and Glaciers

Davis explains that there are various methods for monitoring ice shelves and glaciers. One indirect approach involves using satellite imagery to observe their thickness and overall response over time. Another method is in-situ observation, or deep fieldwork, where researchers physically visit the ice shelves and glaciers to study them from the surface. They also collect data on snowfall, weather conditions, and use seismic techniques to understand their structure and thickness.

Additionally, scientists observe the ocean underneath the ice shelves. By drilling through the ice shelf and deploying instruments in the ocean cavities beneath, they can monitor changes in ocean temperature and circulation, as well as the melting of the ice shelf from below. This holistic approach enables them to gain a comprehensive understanding of how ice shelves and glaciers evolve.

The Significance of Monitoring Ice Shelf Melting from Beneath

Davis emphasizes the importance of understanding how ice shelves and glaciers melt from beneath. He clarifies that glaciers flow from the continent into the ocean, contributing to rising sea levels. Ice shelves, which extend over the ocean, act as barriers to prevent ice from reaching the ocean and thus control sea level rise. However, when ice shelves melt from beneath, their ability to hold back land ice weakens, leading to accelerated sea level rise.

Observations from the surface provide insights into how the surface of ice shelves and glaciers is changing, but they require making assumptions about various processes, including melt. Davis explains that it is more accurate to directly measure melt rates by using instruments such as radars or drilling through the ice and observing it from beneath. This approach helps researchers better understand melting patterns and trends.

Changes in Antarctica and their Impact on Sea Level Rise

Davis highlights that warm water from offshore is increasingly reaching the continental shelves and flowing beneath ice shelves in Antarctica. When ice shelves are in balance, the amount of ice that crosses the grounding line (where ice shelves start floating) matches the amount lost through melting and calving. However, the influx of warm water disrupts this balance, causing more ice to enter the ocean and contributing to sea level rise.

While Antarctica is divided into East Antarctica and West Antarctica, it’s the latter that is of greater concern. In West Antarctica, warm water reaches closer to the continental shelf, making it more susceptible to ice shelf melting. Cold water in the East Antarctica region currently prevents warm water from significantly accessing its ice shelves.

Changes Witnessed in West Antarctica

According to Davis, significant changes have occurred in West Antarctica, particularly in the Antarctic peninsula and the Amundsen Sea. Several ice shelves, such as Larsen A and Larsen B, have collapsed, and grounding lines have rapidly retreated. Ice fronts have also retreated inward, indicating glacial retreat.

Timeline of Changes in West Antarctica

The changes observed in West Antarctica have been evolving over the past 10 to 20 years. Davis notes that attributing specific events to particular times is challenging, given the complex natural cycles and the limited duration of observations. However, computer models have provided insights into the causes of these changes and their potential future implications.

Deciphering Natural Changes and Anthropogenic Influences

Scientists are using computer models to understand the natural variability of Antarctica’s glaciers and differentiate it from changes caused by anthropogenic climate warming. By simulating various scenarios with and without greenhouse gas emissions, researchers can attribute changes to different factors and better comprehend the dynamics of the system.

Focus on Thwaites Glacier

Davis specifically focuses on Thwaites Glacier, which consists of two distinct regions: the Thwaites main trunk and the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf. The main trunk has rapidly disintegrated, while the Eastern Ice Shelf has maintained its structure, albeit with signs of potential collapse in the next 10 to 20 years.

Understanding the Differences in Glacier Behavior

Davis explains the discrepancy in behavior between the two regions by highlighting the seabed topography. The Eastern Ice Shelf still has a pinning point, where the ice can grip onto the shallow seabed. In contrast, the main trunk lacks this anchoring point, resulting in its fragmentation into large blocks.

Short-Term and Long-Term Consequences

If the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf collapses within the next 15 to 20 years, there would be an immediate increase in the influx of ice from the ground into the ocean. This would accelerate the rate of sea level rise. If the worst-case scenario unfolds, and it triggers a long-term collapse of the glacier, sea levels could rise significantly over centuries or millennia. There are concerns that the collapse of Thwaites Glacier may destabilize wider areas in West Antarctica, leading to catastrophic sea level rise. However, it is important to note that the collapse of the glacier itself is not expected to occur for hundreds or even thousands of years.

This interview was originally published on IFLScience’s The Big Questions and has been edited for length and clarity.

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