A Submarine Robot gives a Close-Up Look Beneath a Troubling Ice Shelf in Antarctica

The Thwaites Glacier, which is the size of Florida, is in greater danger than previously thought. The glacier has enough ice to raise sea levels by over two feet, and its collapse could lead to even more ice being released from neighboring glaciers, resulting in the submersion of coastal cities and populated areas of the world.

Scientists are researching where Thwaites are melting and how fast they might melt. However, civilization is not doomed, as there are energy choices available that can limit the worst consequences of climate change.

The latest research from the West Antarctic source shows that the critical point where the glacier is melting is beneath Thwaites’ ice shelf, which is the end of the glacier that reaches over the ocean. Ice shelves act as a “cork in a bottle,” holding back colossal glaciers from flowing unimpeded into the sea. If the ice shelf goes, the glacier will follow.

Glaciologists have drilled through nearly 2,000 feet of Thwaites’ ice shelf to send a robot called Icefin into the dark water. The research shows that the glacier is melting faster than expected in cracks beneath the floating ice shelf. The researchers suspect that relatively warmer water is seeping into the cracks and crevasses, amplifying the melting at these weaker points.

Scientists are researching where the glacier is melting and how fast it might melt to limit the worst consequences of climate change. The latest research, which was published in Nature, shows that the glacier continues to melt underwater, and warm water is seeping into the natural cracks and crevasses, which amplifies melting at these weaker points. Sea levels globally have already risen by eight to nine inches since the late 1800s, but considerably more is in store.

Sea level rise is accelerating, driven by the melting of ice and the thermal expansion of the oceans, and between now and 2050, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects sea levels around the U.S. to rise by around another foot.

By the end of the century, global sea levels overall will rise by some 1.5 to 2.5 feet and continue rising. The effects of warming on ice masses like Greenland and Antarctica depend largely on the most unpredictable part of the climate change equation, humans.

Driven by enormous fossil fuel burning, heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased exponentially in the last century. CO2 levels are now the highest in the last 3 million years.