As climate change fuels the melting of Antarctic glaciers, scientists have expressed grave concern. The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) will spend up to $25 million to research the colossal Thwaites Glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which could dramatically accelerate sea level rise around the world if it melts. If the whole ice sheet goes, scientists warn global sea levels could rise by as much as nine feet.
According to an NERC statement, “Recent studies indicate that the greatest risk for future rapid sea-level rise now comes from the Thwaites Glacier.” Based on satellite measurements, scientists can see that in a mere six years, “rate of ice loss” has doubled near the glacier. Scientists are not sure whether the glacier might melt in a few decades or a few centuries, but either way would mark “a remarkably rapid change in relatively short geological time.”
Scientists expect if both Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier melt, other glaciers in the vicinity could swiftly follow. Both are close to the Amundsen Sea, and the loss of each one could raise sea levels by around two feet, according to the Washington Post. Worse, Thwaites Glacier already sits in an unstable position: its base is below sea level where lapping warm waters can erode the glacier.
Scientists have worried over the West Antarctic glaciers for decades, according to NASA. In 1968, a geologist called the West Antarctic ice sheet “unstable” and in 1981 a researcher referred to the Amundsen Sea area specifically as the “weak underbelly” of the ice sheet.
NERC and NSF will spend between $20 and $25 million to fund modeling around the glacier and the Amundsen Sea, and fieldwork which should start in 2019. The funding should cover five years of research.