Last December, I posted a piece about the Greenland ice melting much quicker than expected. Now, it would appear that a similar – and alarming – phenomenon is happening in Antarctica and in particular to the Thwaites Glacier. A long description of the studies going on in Antarctica are published in the Financial Times:
The location, and comparative size, of the glacier can be seen in the following image, sourced from the Norwegian Polar Institute and included in the FT article.
Thwaites Glacier is only a small part of the Antarctic ice but, in size, approximates to the size of England and Wales (see insert above). According to the article, it is the most vulnerable place in Antarctica because several chunks of ice have already broken away from it. The studies of the glacier are part of a joint effort between British and American scientists. The glacier is being studied in order to predict how much the sea level will rise in the future.
Antarctica holds around 90 per cent of the ice on the planet and is equivalent to the size of Europe. It is covered in a blanket of ice, 2km thick. And as the planet heats up due to climate change, the polar regions warm much faster. This puts the icy continents of Antarctica and Greenland, in the Arctic region, right at the forefront of the effects of global warming. The South Pole has warmed at three times the global rate since 1989.
Scientists believe that, if Thwaites glacier is removed, other ice which it is holding back, will start draining into the ocean. By itself, Thwaites could raise sea levels about 65cm as it melts. But if it goes, there will be a knock-on effect across the western half of Antarctica, which could lead to between 2m and 3m of sea level rise, a rise that would be catastrophic for most coastal cities.