February 20, 2024

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Monster glaciers in Antarctica are doing something they've never done in 5,500 years

Monster glaciers in Antarctica are doing something they’ve never done in 5,500 years

The current rate at which the famous Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers are retreating is unprecedented and perhaps irreversible.

Antarctica is covered by two massive ice masses: the East and West Antarctic ice sheets. Researchers are particularly concerned about the West Antarctic ice sheet, which has been shrinking at an accelerating rate in recent decades due to a warming climate. It’s bad news for many of the glaciers found here, including the well-known Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers. Scientists have been keeping a close eye on the monster glaciers of Antarctica for some time. and in New study They again provide disturbing results.

Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier
We’ve known for a while that Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers aren’t doing well. So Icebergs spawn regularly in the Pine Island glacier, making this glacier one of West Antarctica’s biggest fears. In addition to Thwaites Glacier is melting at an unrelenting pace It is currently responsible for about 4 percent of the world’s sea level rise. In summary, we already know that monstrous glaciers in Antarctica are particularly vulnerable to global warming and are currently contributing to sea level rise. But how special is that, if we take a look at the past?

5500 years
Very unique, it turns out. Because monster glaciers in Antarctica today are doing something they haven’t done in the past 5,500 years. For example, the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers are melting at record speed. The speed with which these two brutal glaciers are retreating is truly unprecedented in more than 5,000 years. “While these fragile glaciers have been relatively stable over the past millennia, their rate of melting has accelerated, causing global sea levels to rise,” study researcher Dylan Rudd said.

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sea ​​level rise
The rate of retreat of monstrous glaciers in Antarctica appears to have doubled in the past 30 years. This is bad news. If the glaciers on Thwaites and Pine Island were to diminish completely, this would have dire consequences for sea levels. With an area of ​​192,000 square kilometers (roughly the size of the whole of Great Britain) and 162,300 square kilometers respectively, the glaciers could cause sea levels to rise by at least 3.4 meters in the coming centuries.

According to Rudd, these are troubling findings. “The increased rates at which ice is melting may indicate that vital arteries have been ruptured from the core of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” he says. This may have accelerated the flow of ice into the ocean, which could be disastrous for global sea levels in the future. We urgently need to know if it is really too late to stop the bleeding.”

The researchers based their findings on the analysis of ancient Antarctic shore remains. During the Middle Holocene, more than 5,000 years ago, the climate was much warmer than it is today, resulting in higher sea levels and smaller glaciers. Researchers wanted to study sea level fluctuations since the mid-Holocene, so they turned to ancient remains of Antarctic shores, including sea shells and penguin bones. By knowing the exact age of these beaches, the researchers were able to determine when each beach formed. In this way, they were able to reconstruct the sea-level rises over the past five thousand years.

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The search continues. Because in order to better predict the future fate of the West Antarctic ice sheets and their impact on global sea levels, scientists will try to determine how Thwaites Glacier in the past responded to climatic conditions similar to those present today. There is likely to be important clues buried deep under the ice. To solve the puzzles found, researchers will therefore have to dig through the glacial ice to reach the underlying rock. And then hopefully the researchers will answer the burning question of whether we can slow the rate at which ice is fading, or whether it really is a lost cause.