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The cavity is big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, with most of it melting over the past three years. A faster rise in sea level, however, could force countries to act more urgently. “That’s a 3 percent contribution that wasn’t there 45 years ago,” Larter tells TIME. “Having said that, being stupid would include not taking climate change and sea level rise seriously.”. If that pace were to double or triple suddenly because glacier melt really picked up, "then that’s going to really throw a wrench into the ability for these nations to plan and prepare for the impacts of sea level rise," Scambos said. But the real danger is what happens after. More: Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather. “If you have collapsed a whole glacial system then you’re creating a new front on the other glacial systems that were bordered to it. “The more this marine ice sheet instability occurs, the wider the range of possible future sea level rise becomes,” Robel says. Behind the glacier lies an even larger body of ice that, for as long as Thwaites is intact, is protected from contact with too-warm waters. Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox, Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather, Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, Melting glaciers in Arctic reveal land hidden for 40,000 years, study says, according to a study published in Nature in February, Antarctic ice melting 6 times faster than it did in '80s, Ancient Antarctic ice sheet collapse could happen again, triggering a new global flood, Your California Privacy Rights/Privacy Policy. "Eventually, we’re going to lose big areas of the Antarctic, big areas in Greenland. If you’re not stupid, you don’t die of sea level rise because it’s so slow that there’s time to protect against it or abandon the land,” Levermann says. Coastal cities throughout the world are at risk if sea levels continue to rise. But the glacier also backstops neighboring glaciers. The Thwaites Glacier is melting … and it is melting fast. More: Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real. “It is very curious that for 10,000 years nothing has happened in western Antarctica, and now it’s [unstable] 100 years after we started messing with the temperature of the planet,” Levermann says. Right now, the glacier acts as a buffer between the warming sea and other glaciers. A massive research effort is under way to understand Antarctica's Thwaites glacier before it is too late. “There’s always going to be some level of uncertainty in terms of our future projections, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know some very important things,” he added. The glacier's grounding line, the point at which ice meets the land underneath, has retreated over 9 miles between 1992 and 2011, according to NERC. Glaciers in West Antarctica like the Thwaites and PIG worry scientists because their melting could eventually expose inland glaciers and even more ice, causing a drastic rise in sea levels. ... the same wind patterns led to a lot of surface melting," he said. If all the ice on Thwaites is lost, it would raise ocean levels an additional 2 feet, according to the NASA study. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our, NASA-led study discovered that a giant cavity, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, A Glacier the Size of Florida Is Becoming Unstable. If Thwaites' melting happens over centuries, then nations would have more time to get ready. But satellite monitoring indicates this glacier is melting at an accelerating rate. Scambos said research into Thwaites' retreat started as early as the 1990s, as satellite data got better at tracking Antarctic ice sheets. Robel, along with scientists Helene Seroussi and Gerard Roe used mathematical analysis and computer models to make projections of sea levels in the future. Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is reported to be melting quicker than previously thought - scientists are now trying to find out why. Thwaites holds back a … If all glacial ice were to melt, it would cause the sea level to rise 230 feet around the world. These simulations also show that there’s an important role for future expeditions to try to narrow down the possible scenarios of sea level rise from Thwaites, Robel says. Scientists may just have identified Thwaites Glacier's Achilles heel. If those glaciers also melt, sea levels could rise an additional eight feet, researchers warn. Thwaites has been difficult to study because it's far from U.S. bases in the Antarctic and also because the weather is "particularly bad," said Zoet. So what might happen if Thwaites does collapse? Since 1992, satellite observations for Antarctica have found that ice sheets are contributing to global sea level rise. Vote Now, You can unsubscribe at any time. When that happens, the glaciers behind the ice shelves speed up, releasing more ice to the sea. Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox. Levermann says scientists will know much more in the next 20 years at the current rate of research, and adds that the world needs to prepare for significant sea level rise by the year 2100 and monitor changes to Antarctica and Greenland. “Not only that, but that range will start to skew towards scenarios of more rapid sea level rise.”. Robel says there needs to be recognition by nations around the world that there will be sea level rises and they need to prepare for them by adapting infrastructure and taking actions that will prevent exacerbating the issue. The Thwaites Glacier is the largest, most menacing source of rising sea levels all over the world, and it is melting at an alarming rate. What especially worries scientists is if the melting accelerates. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a rise of 0.26 to 0.77 meters in sea level by the year 2100 if warming increases by 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures—the 19th century—or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. So what happens if Thwaites melts? The Thwaites glacier is larger than England, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. Thwaites has been described as one of the world's most dangerous glaciers because its demise could lead to rapid changes in global sea levels. Thwaites Glacier is melting fast, and scientists fear its collapse could one day destabilize surrounding glaciers and eventually trigger up to 11 feet of global sea level rise. He says all of the ice in Thwaites glacier could increase the global sea level by a bit more than two feet. This will allow the glacier’s potential sea-level contribution to be more accurately predicted. What Would Happen If The Pine Island Glacier Melts? Global temperature has already increased by about 1 degree celsius since the pre-industrial era, Larter says, meaning there’s only about 0.5 degrees left for global temperature to rise. Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com. "As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster." The Thwaites Glacier is one of the most dangerous glaciers in the world, and scientists are eager to travel to Antarctica to study it. It Has Dire Implications for Global Sea Levels. THWAITES GLACIER OFFSHORE RESEARCH. "It could potentially destabilize the whole region of West Antarctica," Lucas Zoet, a University of Wisconsin geoscientist, , told USA TODAY. "If this cavity grows or sort of expands, that’s one way it can get off this last sort of ridge that Thwaites Glacier is hanging on to," Zoet told USA TODAY. The glacier measures more than 70,000 square miles, making it one of the largest glaciers in the world, said NERC. The glacier sits in West Antarctica and flows into the Amundsen Sea. Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23. He added that there are more marine ice sheets in Antarctica that could become destabilized if warming continues. Roughly the size of Florida, Thwaites' melting is currently responsible for about 4 percent of global sea level rise, according to NASA in its recent study on the glacier's giant hole. Seawater that is a few degrees above freezing is melting the ice shelf from below. What is still uncertain is how fast the continent is losing ice or if the instability of the Thwaites marine ice sheet is the result of climate change, but Levermann says there simply hasn’t been enough research to know for sure. 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