Scientists Might Not Be Able to Stop This Massive Antarctica Glacier From Melting Into the Ocean

The Thwaites Glacier is melting rapidly and its ice is causing sea levels in the Pacific to rise. But how bad is it? Scientists from the U.S. and U.K. are launching an expedition to find out.

Thwaites sits on the coast of West Antarctica on the Amundsen Sea. It’s melting so fast in the face of climate change that it’s currently responsible for 4 percent of all sea level rise, according to the BBC. Scientists are worried that the glacier is going into irreversible retreat, meaning that no amount of climate change reversal could stop it from melting into the ocean.

The National Environment Research Council from the U.K. and the U.S.' National Science Foundation will fund the Arctic’s biggest field campaign, according to the BBC. About 100 scientists will go on several expeditions to study Thwaites to better understand how quickly it’s melting.

Thwaites_glacier Thwaites glacier is melting at an alarming rate. NASA

It’s unclear how long it would take for Thwaites to melt completely—possibly decades or centuries. However, if it does melt, we could see the global sea level rise by more than 30 inches. Even an increase of 12 inches would displace entire human communities and devastate freshwater resources.

Anything that scientists can learn from exploring Thwaites will provide more information how much time we have before it melts completely. They will map the ice stream, take measurements and send a submarine—whimsically called Boaty McBoatface—to explore the water under parts of the glacier.   

The shockingly fast rate of melting might be due to warmer waters reaching the Antarctic. As climate change is a worldwide issue, researchers hope that science organizations from more countries will sign on to help the endeavor of studying the glacier. 

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