End of Days? What Happens if Antarctica’s Giant Cavity-Filled Glacier Melts?
February 21, 2019 (sputniknews.com)
• Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have discovered that the 74,000 square mile (192,000 square kilometre) Thwaites Glacier in Western Antarctica is melting and has created a huge ‘glacial cavity’ at the bottom of it containing 14 billion tons of frozen fresh water. And it is still melting at an “explosive” rate.
• This demonstrates that Antarctic ice is not only melting in areas adjacent to oceans, but also from underneath its thick ice sheets. Were the Thwaites Glacier to melt completely, it could cause global sea levels to rise by some two feet. Such a rise would be enough to threaten coastal cities around the globe, flooding island nations and leading to soil erosion. Lucas Zoet, a science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s department of geoscience, fears that the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier “could potentially destabilize the whole region of West Antarctica.” And this doesn’t include the concurrent ice melt from other parts of Antarctica, the Arctic and Greenland.
• Last year, researchers from Germany, Austria and Australia released a study which concluded that with sea levels expected to rise two feet worldwide by the year 2300, low-lying areas of Florida and Bangladesh, and entire nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean or Kiribati in the Pacific, would be threatened, with massive coastal urban areas such as Shanghai, London, New York, and New Orleans affected as well.
• The Thwaites ice formation also serves to prevent other nearby glaciers from sliding toward the sea. If that happens and those glaciers melt, sea levels would rise not by two feet, but up to ten feet, affecting areas of human habitation much further inland and causing even more chaos to local ecosystems.
• Researchers from the Antarctic Research Centre at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Willington and McGill University in Canada have recently published an article in Nature which warned that the billions of tons of freshwater melt flowing into the oceans from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica would cause the global oceanic conveyor belt network to diminish, resulting in longer, more extreme hot or cold snaps, wet spells and dry stretches, and greater temperature variance throughout the world.
• According to Dr. Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, “The point is not so much [in] whether or not it’s going to happen… the important thing is how fast is this going to happen.” (see 4:58 minute CBS News video on the Antarctic glacial melt below)
• [Editor’s Note] It appears that, in addition to a much more rapid rate of rising sea levels, the continent of Antarctica might sooner reveal the remnants of a non-human civilization concealed underneath the ice.
The glacial cavity, found at the bottom of a glacier in western Antarctica with the use of ice-penetrating radar and satellites with high-resolution lenses, was discovered by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who called the find “disturbing” and warned that the mysterious cavity, once containing 14 billion tonnes of frozen fresh water, was still growing at an “explosive” rate. The discovery is vital, the scientists said, because it demonstrated that Antarctic ice is melting not only in areas adjacent to oceans, but also from underneath its thick ice sheets.
Rising Sea Levels
The immediate and most obvious concern about the discovery is that if the Thwaites Glacier, which extends some 192,000 square kilometres, or 74,000 square miles, were to melt completely, it could raise global sea levels by some 2 feet (0.6 metres). According to the Smithsonian Institute, such a rise would be enough to threaten coastal cities around the globe, flooding island nations and leading to soil erosion.
Last year, researchers from Germany, Austria and Australia released a studywhich concluded that with sea levels expected to rise two feet worldwide by the year 2300, low-lying areas of Florida and Bangladesh, and entire nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean or Kiribati in the Pacific, would be threatened, with massive coastal urban areas such as Shanghai, London, New York, and New Orleans affected as well.
If rising sea levels come to pass sooner than expected thanks to new, previously unknown phenomena, like the Thwaites Glacier cavity, “that’s going to really throw a wrench into the ability for these nations to plan and prepare for the impacts of sea level rise,” Dr. Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, told USA Today.
Fleets of Dangerous Icebergs?
In addition to its massive store of frozen fresh water, the Thwaites ice formation is thought to serve as an important ‘door stop’, preventing nearby glaciers from sliding toward the sea. If that happens and those glaciers melt, sea levels would rise not by two feet, but up to ten feet (three metres), affecting areas of human habitation much further inland and causing even more chaos to local ecosystems.
In this sense, Thwaites “holds a kind of wildcard for being able to increase the rate of sea-level rise quite rapidly if things unfold a certain way,” Scambos said.
In addition to their possible threat to local wildlife, icebergs breaking off from Antarctica could pose a major threat to human oceanic activities, particularly shipping. In 2018, New Zealand news portal Engineering News warned that Antarctic icebergs were already posing a heightened hazard to southerly shipping routes. A year earlier, the US Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol warned shipping companies that an unusually high number of icebergs were drifting into shipping lanes in northern areas, with the monitoring agency reporting four seasons of “extreme” danger in a row due to bergs drifting through the North Atlantic.
And while Antarctic icebergs are seen as less of a threat than those forming in the Northern Hemisphere and the Arctic, given existing shipping lanes, they still pose a threat, according to scientists.
4:58 minute CBS News video on the unprecedented Antarctica glacial melt
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Antarctic Research Centre at New Zealand's Victoria University of Willington, Dr. Ted Scambos, glacial cavity, Lucas Zoet, McGill University in Canada, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Thwaites Glacier, US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Western Antarctica