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West AntarcticaTwo new studies have been released that confirm glaciers in West Antarctica are in a state of “irreversible retreat.” Once these glaciers have thawed, they will cause average ocean levels to rise by four feet in the coming decades. Eric Rignot, lead author of NASA’s report on the subject, says, “It’s passed the point of no return.”

Six glaciers sit on the coast of West Antarctica: Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler. The structure of these glaciers is such that their leading edges float on the surface of the water, with their bodies receding down below to the bedrock of the continent. Where the glacier meets the bedrock, that place is called the grounding line. Warm water flowing into the Amundsen Sea has steadily eroded these grounding lines, causing the edges of the glaciers to extend further into the ocean and actually accelerating the melting process.

Radar confirms that there are no major mountain ranges below the vast sheets of ice. This is a problem because such geologic features could stop the flow of the glaciers once they’d melted past a certain point. Without mountains to stop them, the West Antarctica ice will simply continue to flow into the ocean; Rignot describes it as uncorking a full bottle of wine while it’s lying on its side.

Rignot’s study was conducted by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and appears in Geophysical Research Letters. The University of Washington conducted a separate study on the Thwaites glacier that was published in the journal Science. The University of Washington’s study calculates that the collapse of the Thwaites glacier alone would cause global sea levels to rise 60 cm (1.96 feet). However, the “glacier also acts as a linchpin on the rest of the ice sheet, which contains enough ice to cause another three to four meters of sea level rise” (9-13 feet).

According to the NASA study, this erosion has been increasing for the last 40 years. “We do think this is related to climate warming,” says Rignot.

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6 Responses

  1. Robert Purtell says:

    Man made events. Will Civilization survive?

  2. […] West Antarctica was found to be rapidly losing ice, East Antarctica is actually growing in volume. However, the buildup of ice on the eastern side of […]

  3. […] the West Antarctic ice sheet – the two major ice sheets – are losing ice, once again faster than we expected them to. And that means that they are contributing to sea level rise faster than we expected them to. […]

  4. […] six glaciers in West Antarctica are in a state of “irreversible melt” and both Antarctic and Greenland ice […]

  5. […] body that has done everything in its power to deny that extreme droughts, toxic algae blooms and a melting antarctica have anything to do with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than any time in the last 800,000 […]

  6. […] Since the 1970s, the U.S. Historical Climatology Network has recorded warmer winters in every state. Winters nationwide have exhibited warmer temperatures at a rate 4.5 times faster per decade than over the past 100 years. Though surface temperatures hit a peak in 1998 and have slowed since then, the world’s oceans continue to heat up. This has caused ice sheets at the Earth’s poles to enter a state of “irreversible retreat,” and western Antarctica is now melting. […]

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