To Scientists' Horror, Antarctic Ice Begins Unstoppable Collapse

Point of no return has passed, researchers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2014 4:20 AM CDT
Updated May 13, 2014 7:47 AM CDT
This photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic.    (AP Photo/NASA)

(Newser) – Two groups of scientists studying the West Antarctica ice sheet have come to the same chilling conclusion: The mighty glaciers have begun a thaw that will cause sea levels to rise 10 feet or more and there's nothing we can do about it. "A large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into a state of irreversible retreat," says the lead author of one paper, explaining that warming waters are destabilizing the edge of a vast amount of ice and causing a slow collapse in a process he likens to uncorking a full bottle of wine that is resting on its side, Reuters reports.

The thaw and sea level rise is expected to happen over the next few centuries, meaning that while there won't be a dramatic rise tomorrow, the result will be a very different planet, Mother Jones reports. Researchers believe the thaw is linked to climate change and while the point of no return has already passed, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions could at least slow the process down. "If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out," a climate scientist who has studied polar ice sheets for decades tells the New York Times. "But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?"

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