(AP) – A team of scientists are sailing to “the most difficult place in the world” to better understand by how much and how fast the seas will rise as a result of global warming eating away at Antarctica’s ice.
On Thursday, thirty-two scientists begin a mission lasting more than two months aboard an American research vessel to investigate the crucial area where the massive but melting Thwaites Glacier faces the Amundsen Sea and could possibly losing large amounts of ice due to hot water. The Florida-sized glacier has received the nickname “Glacier of the End of the World” because of the amount of ice it contains and the amount of sea that could rise if all melted – over 65 centimeters in. hundreds of years.
Because of its importance, the US and UK are in the middle of a joint $ 50 million mission to study Thwaites, the world’s largest glacier by land and sea. Not near any of the Mainland research stations, Thwaites sits in the western half of Antarctica, east of the protruding Antarctic Peninsula, which was once the area scientists worried about most.
“Thwaites is the main reason why I would say we have such great uncertainty in projecting future sea level rise and that is because it is a very remote area, difficult to reach,” Anna Wahlin, an oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in an interview on Wednesday the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, which was due to leave its Chilean port a few hours later. “It’s configured in such a way that it’s potentially unstable. And that is why we are worried about it.
Thwaites puts around 50 billion tonnes of ice in the water per year. According to the British Antarctic Survey, the glacier is responsible for 4% of the world’s sea level rise, and the conditions that cause it to lose more ice are accelerating, the ice specialist from University of Colorado Ted Scambos from McMurdo Ground Station.
Oregon State University ice scientist Erin Pettit said Thwaites appears to be falling apart in three ways:
– Melting from below by ocean water.
– The land part of the glacier “loses its grip” where it attaches to the seabed, so that a large chunk can break off in the ocean and later melt.
– The glacier’s pack ice shatters into hundreds of fractures like a damaged car windshield. That’s what Pettit said she feared would be the most troublesome with six-mile (10-kilometer) long cracks forming in just a year.
No one has ever set foot on the key ice water interface in Thwaites before. In 2019, Wahlin was part of a team that explored the area from a ship using a robotic ship but never went ashore.
Wahlin’s team will be using two robot ships – their big one called Ran that they used in 2019 and the more agile Boaty McBoatface, the crowdsource-named drone that could go deeper below the Thwaites area protruding from the ocean – to switch to Thwaites.
The scientists on board will measure the temperature of the water, the seabed and the thickness of the ice. They will examine the cracks in the ice, the way the ice is structured and mark the seals on the islands off the glacier.
Thwaites “looks different from other ice shelves,” Wahlin said. “It almost looks like a jumble of icebergs that have been pressed together. So it’s more and more clear that it’s not a solid piece of ice like other ice racks, nice solid and smooth ice. It was much more jagged and scarred.
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