Thwaites Ice Shelf “within years of failure”?

There have been a plethora of headlines in the last 24 hours along the lines outlined above!

According to an article on the answer to the question posed above seems to be “yes”:

An alarming crackup has begun at the foot of Antarctica’s vulnerable Thwaites Glacier, whose meltwater is already responsible for about 4% of global sea level rise. An ice sheet the size of Florida, Thwaites ends its slide into the ocean as a floating ledge of ice 45 kilometers wide. But now, this ice shelf, riven by newly detected fissures on its surface and underside, is likely to break apart in the next 5 years or so, scientists reported today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The most dramatic sign of impending failure is a set of diagonal fractures that nearly span the entire shelf. Last month, satellites spotted accelerating movement of ice along the fractures, says Erin Pettit, a glaciologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, who is part of a multiyear expedition studying the glacier. The shelf is a bit like a windshield with a series of slowly opening cracks, she says. “You’re like, I should get a new windshield. And one day, bang—there are a million other cracks there.”

Here’s an image from the AGU abstract to illustrate the “cracks” Erin referred to:

Image: Christian Wild, Oregon State University

Once the ice shelf shatters, large sections of the glacier now restrained by it are likely to speed up, says Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a leader of the Thwaites expedition. In a worst case, this part of Thwaites could triple in speed, increasing the glacier’s contribution to global sea level in the short term to 5%, Pettit says.

Here is the AGU press conference that caused all the excitement:

5 thoughts on “Thwaites Ice Shelf “within years of failure”?

  1. Maybe the ice shelf is growing and it breaks because it is too big to be stable.
    It is certainly not melting away because of warmer air temperature.

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