Washington Post] It may be the biggest climate change story of the last two years.
2014, several research groups suggested that the oceanfront glaciers in
the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica may have reached a point of “unstoppable” retreat
due to warm ocean waters melting them from below. There’s a great deal
at stake — West Antarctica is estimated to contain enough ice to raise
global sea levels by 3.3 meters, or well over 10 feet, were it all to
The urgency may now increase further in light of just published research suggesting
that destabilization of the Amundsen sea’s glaciers would indeed
undermine the entirety of West Antarctica, as has long been feared.
In a new study published
Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Johannes
Feldmann and Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate
Impact Research use a sophisticated climate model to study what will
happen if these glaciers are, indeed, fully destabilized. And in
essence, they find that the process of retreat doesn’t end with the
region currently up against the ocean.
“We showed that there is
actually nothing that stops it,” said Levermann. “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.”
as the paper puts it: “The result of this study is an if–then
statement, saying that if the Amundsen Sea Sector is destabilized, then
the entire marine part of West Antarctica will be discharged into the
West Antarctica can actually be considered the smallest of three planetary ice sheets
— Greenland contains some 6 meters (20 feet) of potential sea level
rise, and East Antarctica is the most vast of all, at nearly 60 meters,
or 200 feet.
However, West Antarctica is currently believed to be the most vulnerable
to rapid, large scale change, due to the fact that the Amundsen
Sea’s glaciers are rooted on a seabed that slopes downward as you move
further inland, in some places plunging a mile or more below sea level.
The region’s largest glacier, the gigantic Thwaites, is bigger than
Pennsylvania and over a mile in total thickness in places — and may be
the single most vulnerable point. Read More