Giant Antarctic Ice 'Cork' Is Deteriorating

Scientists prepping for $27.5M study of Thwaites Glacier, how sea level rise will be affected
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2018 1:07 PM CDT
Giant Antarctic Ice 'Cork' Is Deteriorating
This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.   (AP Photo/NASA)

An Antarctic glacier is losing so much ice that it contributed to about 4% of the planet's total sea level rise in recent years—and scientists are now concerned this rapid melting could remove one of the few "corks" keeping the West Antarctic Ice Sheet at bay. That's why 100-plus researchers from the US, UK, and other nations are gearing up for a massive $27.5 million study on the Thwaites Glacier, in hopes that the data will help them better predict sea-level rise, Live Science reports. And the vessel that's going to break through the ice to lead this five-year mission: the RRS Sir David Attenborough, better known as the boat that the internet wanted to call Boaty McBoatface, reports the Guardian.

Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global sea level in 2014 was 2.6 inches higher than it was nearly 20 years earlier—and it's set to keep rising at about one-eighth of an inch every year. Landlocked glaciers like Thwaites keep bigger ice masses back, but when these glaciers start to melt, that adds new water into the ocean. Scott Borg, the deputy assistant director at the National Science Foundation, tells the Guardian the Thwaites dilemma is one that should concern us all. "What happens in the Antarctic does not stay in the Antarctic," he says. "We do not know how quickly [the glacier] will contribute to sea level rises, and whether we have decades or centuries to prepare for it." (How rising sea levels are creating "ghost forests.")

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