NASA says Antarctica's total ice mass is growing, but it still faces serious risks from climate change.
We reported earlier that a recent NASA study suggested that Antarctica was actually gaining mass on its massive land ice sheet. While many have taken this as a sign that the harshest effects of climate change will pass the southernmost continent by, According to a Tech Times report, however, this could not be further from the truth.
Climate change remains a serious threat for the ice in Antarctica, and a recent study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany warns that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet could be come destabilized over the next few decades, potentially leading to a 10 foot increase in sea level. The study used computer models to show how localized instances of melting can have ripple effects throughout the whole ice sheet, resulting in massive calving of glaciers directly into the Southern Ocean.
The study examined two vulnerable glaciers in the Amundsen Sea, called the Thwaites and the Pine Island glaciers. If these were to become destabilized, the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet could break loose and slide directly into the ocean.
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Anders Levermann, the model warns that if the melting carries on for just a few more decades, it could trigger ice movements not seen for thousands of years.
The Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers are melting faster than any other region on the continent. The Thwaites covers an area larger than the state of Pennsylvania and is up to a mile thick in some areas. If these glaciers continue to melt into the sea, it could spell disaster for ice cover on the continent.
According to Levermann, “We showed that there is actually othing that stops it. There are troughs and channels and all this stuff, there’s a lot of topography that actually has the potential to slow down or stop the instability, but it doesn’t.”
If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to completely vanish into the Southern Ocean, scientists suspect that it could affect roughly 150 million people who all live 3 feet or less above sea level.
A press release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research outlining the study’s details can be found here.