A team of international scientists plans to launch an in-depth analysis of the Thwaites glacier to get a better understanding of both current and future sea level rise. The planned project — which will include more than 100 scientists from various countries — is set to cost $27.5 million. Even so, researchers believe the cost is worth it.
The unique glacier sits in West Antarctica. It is a subject of interest because it is one of a small cluster of “cork-like” glaciers that hold back the massive ice chunks of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Not only that, but it has melted rapidly in recent years.
Researchers report that in recent years ice running from Thwaites into the ocean has made up roughly 4 percent of total global sea level rise. That is twice as much as it contributed to in the mid 1990’s, and it is also a significant amount of water run off from one glacier.
Recent reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration state that global sea levels have risen 2.6 inches above average, and they continue to rise by about one-eighth of an inch per year. The team hopes that studying the formation will help scientists better figure out how much worse the situation will get in the coming years. Glaciers like Thwaites are important because they are large landlocked ice chunks that hold back the even larger mass of ice and prevent them from sliding into the ocean.
Landlocked ice can alter sea levels because it introduces new water into the ocean as it melts, Live Science reports. In contrast, while melting sea ice can affect the climate, it is already water that was in the ocean. That difference is why Thwaites-like glaciers drive global sea levels more than any other formations.
While some studies have analyzed such glaciers in the past, they have never fully broken down how they work or how they might change in the future. This new project aims to get a better understanding of Thwaites and offer a much more comprehensive look at how it could affect our planet’s climate.