The widest glacier in the world threatens to slide into the sea, which could lead to dire consequences

The widest glacier in the world threatens to slide into the sea, which could lead to dire consequences

Thwaites Glacier, which first appeared on maps of Antarctica in 1947, has long been a concern. 50 billion tons per year is already collapsing, which represents 4 percent of global sea level rise. If he disappears completely in the water, this level will rise 65 cm to 3 meters – which will also be felt by Flanders.

There are several records of Thwaites Glacier. It is named after Frederick T. Thwaites (1883-1961), an American geologist who had never visited the glacier. With an area of ​​192,000 km² (it can be compared with Great Britain), it is not the largest glacier in the world, but with a tangent line of 120 km (the distance it touches the sea) it is the widest in the world. planet. The glacier is currently 800 to 1200 meters thick on this seam.

But it’s this contact with water – specifically with the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica – that worries scientists. The glacier moves there at a rate of two kilometers per year. In doing so, it is already losing 50 billion tons annually, an amount that has doubled in thirty years and since 2000 represents a total of one trillion tons of ice. No other ice mass in Antarctica is subject to change – which has earned Thwaites the nickname “doomsday ice.”

Part of the 120 km line of communication where the Thwaites Glacier meets the Amundsen SeaNASA image

The ice floe is affected from below

For now, he’s still largely stopped by a floating ice floe affixing him to a rock under the sea, as it were. But that ice floe is melting. Previously large cracks were discovered and new research now shows that flows of warm water are also affecting the ice floes along the bottom. At the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week, scientists warned that the ice floe could collapse within three to five years.

Then the glacier loses its braking system and completely slides into the sea. It has already been calculated that sea level will rise by 65 cm worldwide as a result. This increase is now only 3.5 mm per year. And there’s more. Because according to research leader Ted Schampos, the Thwaites glacier will also drag nearly all of the other ice from the West Antarctic ice shelf with it. It is a hundred times larger than Belgium and will raise sea level by more than three metres.

Areas with a risk of flooding if sea level rises by 65 cm.  Climatecentral.org's photo

Areas with a risk of flooding if sea level rises by 65 cm.Climatecentral.org’s photo

Flooding up to Mechelen

Simulations by scientific news agency Climate Central show that an increase of 65 centimeters will already threaten large parts of West Flanders with floods. If the height is three metres, it will be felt up to Ghent, Wassland and river valleys up to Mechelen. A little further from home, large parts of the Netherlands and cities such as London, Hamburg and Bordeaux would be flooded. Outside of Europe, this applies to major cities such as Miami, Shanghai and Bangkok.

This rise in sea level will not occur immediately after the glacier loses its brakes. It is still not possible to calculate how quickly it will disappear into the sea. The rate at which all that ice melts also depends on what temperature the oceans will have reached by then. So it can still take decades or even centuries before the maximum effects are noticeable. But if the brakes fail, according to the researchers, it will be irreversible and the consequences will come anyway.

Areas with a risk of flooding if the sea level rises by three metres.  Climatecentral.org's photo

Areas with a risk of flooding if the sea level rises by three metres.Climatecentral.org’s photo

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