Researchers at the University of Washington have concluded that Antarctica's fast-moving Thwaites Glacier will likely disappear in a matter of centuries, potentially raising sea level by more than a half-a-meter (almost 2 feet). Data gathered by NSF-funded airborne radar, detailed topography maps and computer modeling were used to make the determination. The glacier acts as an ice dam, stabilizing and regulating movement toward the sea of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ice sheet contains enough ice to cause another 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise.
"There's been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is underway," said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the university's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the first author on the paper. "This study provides a more quantitative idea of the rates at which the [ice sheet] collapse could take place." The paper's co-authors are Benjamin Smith, a physicist at APL, and Brooke Medley, a former University of Washington doctoral student, now at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. While the word "collapse" implies a sudden change, the fastest scenario based on the data, the researchers said, is 200 years, and the longest is more than 1,000 years. The findings are published in the May 16 edition of the journal Science.
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