FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thwaites Glacier Startles Scientists

“It’s a disturbing discovery,” according to Pietro Milillo, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, who co-authored a recently published study: Heterogeneous Retreat and Ice Melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, Science Advances, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. 30, 2019.

It’s only within the past 10 years that NASA’s IceBridge Mission has served as the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice, providing unprecedented three-dimensional views of Antarctica’s ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. Scientists are now able to peer into glaciers with remarkable accuracy to see what’s happening.

Indeed, scientists are getting an eyeful, and they are discovering the true impact of global warming, which is much more powerful and happening considerably faster than they ever dreamed possible.

After all, the ocean has been absorbing most of the planet’s heat, and that heat finds its way underneath in the water, thus creating gigantic melt holes, like the recently discovered Thwaites Big Cavity. As such, considerable damage is/has been hidden from view.

The new NASA study, utilizing IceBridge, shows a surprising loss of 14B tons of ice in only three years from the Thwaites Glacier, where a humongous hole lurks beneath the glacier’s icy/snowy surface, a massive cavity nearly the size of NYC but hidden within the core of the ice sheet.

Fascinatingly, it’s calculated that Thwaites is responsible for anywhere from 5% to 10% of worldwide annual sea level rise (“SLR”). By the time the monster glacier disappears from the face of the planet, it alone will equal nearly two feet of SLR. But, how soon Thwaites fades away within Antarctica’s mid-summer 24-hour endless sunlight is a big mystery.

Thwaites Glacier is one of West Antarctica’s big kahunas. It’s 100 miles across and 4,000 feet deep. Surprisingly, and disturbingly, it’s melting earlier and much much faster than ever thought possible, which is downright spooky for a humongous icy glacier that has a permanent face in Antarctica ever since the dawn of humanity.

It should be noted that Thwaites, assuming it collapses and triggers a series of collapsing glaciers surrounding it, serves as a major-major backstop to a larger potential catastrophe on West Antarctica. Still, an event that catastrophic would likely happen well beyond current lifetimes. However, on a cautionary note, timelines for climate change have become moving targets, almost always way too timid.

Thwaites is one more crushing example of scientists exclaiming: “Uh-oh, this is happening much faster than we ever thought possible.” That’s become a common acknowledgment by scientists. Climate change is happening faster and faster, surprising scientists, as their “models” get blown away by new data.

It was only 5 years ago when scientists said the Western Antarctica ice sheet “collapse had started” but the same researchers said: “Even though sea level rise could not be stopped (10-13 feet) it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.” No sweat!

Now they are sweating.

Making matters dicey-er yet as for urban coastal planners, the United Nations’ IPCC most recent report did not factor in a melting of the Western Antarctica ice sheet into calculations of sea level rise this century.

Surprise, surprise, it’s happening so much faster.

According to the aforementioned study: “The Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE), (Thwaites is one of several glaciers in the embayment) sector of West Antarctica is a dominant contributor to sea level rise at present and for decades to come,” Ibid.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that, unfortunately: The fast-flowing main trunk of Thwaites accelerated 33% between 1973-1996, but lo and behold, the rate quadrupled in 2003-2010, flowing at a rate of 9.5 Gt/yr versus 2.2 Gt/yr previously. That’s 4xs faster, blowing away the old 1973-96 rate of 33%. Geologically speaking, Thwaites is a virtual supersonic melt speed demon.

Of course, once there’s a big new discovery (surprise-surprise) like Thwaites, the odds of similar glacier scenarios are quite high. After all, Antarctica is the largest desert in the world covered by a couple miles of ice equivalent to about 200 feet of sea level rise. There are plenty of potential additional scenarios.

With a sense of urgency, the U.S. and Great Britain have announced a $50M joint venture known as the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration to probe the glacier in every conceivable manner to discover ahead of time how precarious it may be.

And, collaterally, whether science has been way too tardy in identifying the risks associated with global warming.

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
Jon Rynn
What a Green New Deal Should Look Like: Filling in the Details
David Swanson
Will the U.S. Senate Let the People of Yemen Live?
Dana E. Abizaid
On Candace Owens’s Praise of Hitler
Raouf Halaby
‘Tiz Kosher for Elected Jewish U.S. Officials to Malign
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
W. T. Whitney
Caribbean Crosswinds: Revolutionary Turmoil and Social Change 
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Avoiding Authoritarian Socialism
Howard Lisnoff
Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate
Ralph Nader
The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS
Cindy Garcia
Trump Pledged to Protect Families, Then He Deported My Husband
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
Louis Proyect
The Revolutionary Films of Raymundo Gleyzer
Sarah Anderson
If You Hate Campaign Season, Blame Money in Politics
Victor Grossman
Contrary Creatures
Tamara Pearson
Children Battling Unhealthy Body Images Need a Different Narrative About Beauty
Peter Knutson
The Salmon Wars in the Pacific Northwest: Banning the Rough Customer
Binoy Kampmark
Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet
Robert Koehler
The Music That’s in All of Us
Norah Vawter
The Kids Might Save Us
Tracey L. Rogers
Freedom for All Begins With Freedom for the Most Marginalized
Paul Armentano
Marijuana Can Help Fight Opioid Abuse
Tom Clifford
Britain’s Return to the South China Sea
Graham Peebles
Young People Lead the Charge to Change the World
Matthew Stevenson
A Pacific Odyssey: Around General MacArthur’s Manila Stage Set
Jill Richardson
Suddenly, It’s Completely Normal for Women to Run for President
B. R. Gowani
Starbucks Guy Comes Out to Preserve Billionaire Species
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail