Extreme melting in West Antarctica, even if warming stops

Extreme melting in West Antarctica, even if warming stops

West Antarctica’s ice shelves, which, among other things, hold back Thwaites’ “Doomsday Glacier”, will collapse no matter how much global warming is curbed, a new study shows.

    The Great Thwaites Glacier poses the biggest threat associated with rising sea levels.  Now researchers conclude that the barrier to the Doomsday Glacier, as it's also called, will continue to weaken no matter how successful we are at limiting global warming.
  • Jan Morten Bjornback (NTB)
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Melting ice in this area alone could contribute to a sea level rise of 1.8 metres. Although melting in the critical zone around the Amundsen Sea will take several hundred years, it will be powerful enough to change where and how people live near the sea in the future, according to oceanographer Caitlin Naughton.

– Unfortunately, it’s not good news

She is the lead author of the report “The unavoidable future increase in the melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf during the 21st century,” which was published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change on Monday.

The study aims to find out how much control we still have over the melting of large ice shelves containing huge amounts of ice within mainland Antarctica.

– Unfortunately, this is not good news. Our calculations show that we face a rapid rise in ocean warming and melting ice shelves for the rest of this century, Caitlin Naughton tells the Associated Press.

This image shows North Cove in Antarctica, where scientists believe ice melt will continue to increase even if the world manages to meet the goal of stopping global warming to below 1.5 degrees.

Doomsday Glacier is accelerating

In the study, I looked at brake ice as the main component. An ice shelf is often a land-based ice formation several hundred meters thick that extends from the coast in some polar marine regions. If these ice shelves melt, the barrier preventing glaciers on land from flowing into the sea will also break.

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The massive Thwaites Glacier poses the biggest threat that could lead to a sharp rise in sea levels. It is described as part of the “fragile underbelly” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The speed of the “Doomsday Glacier” has increased sharply in recent years, and six years ago, unknown volcanoes were discovered near the glacier.

An iceberg operates off Antarctica.

– Maybe you lost control

According to the report, the melting of ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea will be three times faster in the next century than in the past 100 years. The melting will continue very rapidly even if the world achieves the goal set in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century. Until now, the rate of global warming after the industrial revolution has been estimated at 1.2 degrees.

– We may have lost control of the melting ice in the 21st century. This is climate change that we may have to adapt to. Caitlin Naughton says it’s very likely that coastal communities will either have to build defenses or abandon them Watchman.

But she confirmed to the Associated Press that the melting, which is raising sea levels by 1.8 meters, will continue slowly and over the next several hundred years.

– It is inevitable that some areas will be lost. But within a hundred years, the world may not only have stopped, but also begun to reverse carbon levels in the atmosphere. A sea level rise of 1.8 meters over 200 years would be completely devastating. But if this period extends to 2,000 years, humanity will be able to adapt, says Caitlin Naughten.

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The ice edge that marks the beginning of the vast area covered by ice in Antarctica.  This photo was taken in a different area than the one covered in the research report suggesting that the melting of West Antarctica's ice shelves may have passed the tipping point.

turning point

Other researchers who were not involved in the study stress the seriousness of what climate models are telling us.

The collapse of the West Antarctica ice sheet is a worrying turning point. This study suggests that we are having self-melting ice shelves. Taimur Sohail of the University of New South Wales in Australia tells The Guardian that it has dire consequences for sea level rise.

Researcher Thiago Sijabinazzi Doto from the UK’s National Oceanographic Center says parts of the study are consistent with previous findings and should be taken seriously by decision-makers.

We may have already passed a tipping point to avoid destabilizing the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Collapse may occur within a few decades for some ice shelves and several hundred years in the future in others. The conclusions are based on only one model and should be treated with caution, says Thiago Cegabenazzi-Dotto.


Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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