This Part of Antarctica on the Verge of Tipping: Potential Sea-Level Rise of Nearly 10 Feet

Published by Adrien - Friday, February 23, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: Geophysical Research Letters

A recent study conducted by scientists at Stanford University has shed light on an alarming reality concerning the Wilkes Subglacial Basin in Antarctica. This vast expanse of ice, as large as California, contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by nearly 10 feet (about 3 meters) in the event of complete melting.

Through radar flyovers, researchers have discovered that the base of this ice cap could be much closer to a tipping point towards uncontrollable melting than previously believed.

Illustration Image Pixabay

The Wilkes Basin extends over 870 miles (about 1,400 kilometers) inland and contains ice up to 1.86 miles (about 3 kilometers) thick. Draining into the Southern Ocean through several ice shelves and glaciers, this mass partly lies below sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to melting due to the infiltration of warmer seawater.

Until recently, the relative stability of East Antarctic ice was a widely accepted assumption within the scientific community, with significant attention focused on the glaciers of West Antarctica, known for their dramatic melting. However, previous research suggested that the East Antarctic ice sheet had experienced significant melting and retreat events during past warming periods, raising concerns about the possibility of a "waking" of this sleeping giant.

Data collected by airborne radar have revealed extensive areas of partially thawed ground beneath the ice sheet, suggesting an alarming proximity to a potential tipping point. If temperatures at the base of the ice continue to rise, even slightly, this could trigger a catastrophic collapse of the ice sheet, with devastating consequences for global sea levels.

This study underscores the urgency of paying closer attention to this long-neglected region of Antarctica. Understanding the mechanisms at work beneath the surface of the ice is crucial for anticipating the future impacts of climate change on sea levels and for developing effective mitigation strategies.

This discovery represents a significant step in our understanding of Antarctica's glacial systems and underscores the need for close monitoring of changes in these regions to predict and potentially prevent the consequences of global warming.
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