Thwaites

Antarctica: is the world's most dangerous glacier about to give way?

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In the southwest corner of the Antarctic continent, there is a river of ice known as "the world's most dangerous glacier". On Monday, American and British scientists officially launched a venture to study the Thwaites Glacier. Their goal: to determine whether it is heading towards catastrophic collapse in the near future.
 
Ne already know that the Thwaites Glacier is melting at a rate of about 40 centimetres per year, according to the BBC. This was enough to cause about 4 % of the world's sea level rise over the last 25 years. As if that wasn't enough, scientists fear that the giant Thwaites is about to do even more damage: if ocean waters have infiltrated far enough under this glacier, its mass, the size of Florida, could begin to slide from the land to the ocean. If this happens, estimates suggest it could raise sea levels from 80 cm to over 3 metres. If this happens, many coastal cities around the world would be at risk.
 

The collapse of this glacier." could have a significant impact on global sea level "said the UK's National Environmental Research Council (NERC) in a statement. The British Secretary of State for Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, even speaks of "vital importance".
 
The considerable nature of this risk explains the unprecedented mobilization of teams of scientists in battle order to survey the glacier. This project is the largest scientific collaboration in Antarctica in decades. It involves more than 100 scientists from around the world, with an estimated final cost of more than $55 million. It will include measurements of rates of change in the volume and mass of ice, and water-jet drills capable of drilling 1,500 meters into the ice will be used. Finally, the scientists of this International Collaboration will be able to rely on an armada of submersibles that will study the amount of salt water that has moved under the glacier. Indeed, scientists suspect that the glacier is being eaten away by the warming of the ocean waters flowing beneath it. « We think it's more affected by what's going on underneath, so the heat that's brought in from the ocean, from the circumpolar deep water... ' John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for the cybersecurity company FireEye, explained Erin Pettit from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 
The researchers will also be accompanied by some rather special scientists: seals will be equipped with sensors that will monitor the temperature of the water they pass through during their peregrinations in the Amundsen Sea.
 
 
 
Satellites show that the Thwaites region is changing rapidly, but to know how much and how fast the sea level will change requires scientists on the ground with sophisticated equipment. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the world's largest research funding agency," William Easterling, a National Science Foundation (NSF) official, told AFP in a statement.
 
Timelapse of satellite images showing the melting of the Thwaites Glacier
 
The mission of this International Collaboration will not be a piece of cake. The Thwaites Glacier is more than a thousand kilometres from the nearest permanent research station and the weather conditions there are extremely harsh. « Logistics make this science extremely difficult We've been working on Thwaites before," says New York University's David Holland, who previously worked on Thwaites. « The window of opportunity for research is small, mainly from December to January. ".
Some researchers will fly out of British and American research bases. Once there, at their research site, they will set up camp for weeks in tents on the ice. Others will reach the face of the glacier on ice-breaking ships.
 
According to NASA, between 2002 and 2016, Antarctica lost 125 gigatons of ice per year. As the white continent contains 62% of the world's freshwater reserves, its thaw is expected to contribute to the desalination of the world's seas, a fatal mechanism for many marine species, and to the disruption of ocean currents and rising water levels.
 

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