West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is located in one of the most remote places on earth and just so happens to be about the size of the State of Florida. Scientists have recently used cutting edge satellite ice-penetrating radar technology to discover an enormous hole, a cavity as its being called, under the glacier that is two thirds the size of New York City and they believe it is melting at a much more rapid rate than previously thought. In 2014 a University of Washington study concluded that over the course of the next 200 or so years this and other West Antarctic glaciers would melt from global warming and cause seas to rise by 4 feet, but the most recent research out this week suggests that the melting is happening much, much faster than previously thought.
The cavity is “big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, and most of that ice melted over the last three years“
About five years ago I spent a few incredible days in Climate Reality training courses here in Miami with Vice President Al Gore and bunch of other fantastic experts. And after one of those long days of training I dashed over to Miami Beach where I got to hear, and then meet, one of the world’s most important, respected, and honored climate scientists, Dr. Eric Rignot. Dr. Rignot is a professor at the University of California, a Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a Lead Author on the United Nation’s IPCC’s Fifth Assessment, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 (his work, and that of VP Gore’s work, meant I was able to hear, meet and learn from two Nobel Peace Prize winners in one remarkable day!).
Dr. Rignot studies the relationship between our climate, our oceans and ice. He’s what is called a glaciologist. He uses the most advanced satellite technology in the world to study these things and while he and his team have believed that the Thwaites might not be completely attached to the bedrock beneath it, what they found is alarming. The size of the hole in it, and the speed in which it has grown as our climate continues to heat to catastrophic temperatures, should concern us all.
The glacier holds “enough ice to raise the world ocean level a little over 2 feet (65 centimeters”
You see, that one glacier, a glacier the size of Florida, currently has enough ice in it that if it fully melts away it would cause all of the world’s oceans to increase by more than two feet. And if it continues to melt and disappear then the even larger glaciers near it would then be at increased risk of eroding and those, if (when?) they melted, could add 8 feet of sea rise to our oceans. As temperatures all over earth continue to rise they not only have an impact on the surface ice that we can see but they also warm the oceans below and that warmer water melts the ice under those glaciers, the part we can’t see until now thanks to the help of NASA, people like Dr. Rignot and their incredible tools.
Consider what South Florida would be like with sea levels two feet taller than they are today.
And then consider that a single quickly melting glacier in Antarctica the size of one of the most fragile places in all of the world, the State of Florida, home to the place most at risk from sea level rise (South Florida) in our country, could cause exactly just that to happen. Should we see that as sadly ironic or a global call to action?
Sea levels all over the world have already begun to rise as a result of our man made climate crisis and places like Miami, Miami Beach, the Everglades and the Florida Keys are at dire risk of being lost forever. The news that glaciers we knew were melting are doing so much faster than previously thought can’t be overlooked and the sooner our society ends the use of fossil fuels that emit the warming gases causing the problem, the better chance we have to mitigate the damage that’s begun.