United States researchers to lead giant Antarctic glacier study

Antarctic mission to assess apocalypse risk posed by huge melting glacier

It is melting at a terrifying rate, losing around 50 billion tonnes of ice every year.

Britain and the United States launched a $25 million project on Monday to study the risks of a collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica that is already shrinking and nudging up global sea levels.

They will use underwater robots called Seagliders to measure ocean circulation and thinning beneath the floating part of the glacier - as well as research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough, better known to many as Boaty McBoatface.

Professor Duncan Wingham, chief executive of NERC, said: 'The fate of the Thwaites Glacier is one the big unknowns in Antarctic science.

Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier are two of the biggest and fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica.

A 2017 estimate suggested that a collapse of the entire the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet would result in a 10-foot-rise in sea level, which is enough to overwhelm coastal areas around the globe.

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The nearest permanently occupied research station to the Thwaites Glacier is more than 1,600 kilometres away.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that, globally, sea level has risen about 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) above the 1993 average, and it continues to rise by about one-eighth of an inch (32 millimeters) per year.

William Easterling, assistant director for the National Science Foundation's Geosciences directorate in the USA, added: "Satellites show the Thwaites region is changing rapidly, but to answer the key questions of how much, and how quickly, sea level will change in the future requires scientists on the ground with sophisticated equipment collecting the data we need to measure rates of ice volume and ice mass change".

That's the question that a huge team of global scientists is hoping to answer as it prepares to launch a major study of one of the main culprits of sea level rise: the Thwaites glacier.

William Easterling, assistant director for the National Science Foundation's Geosciences Directorate, said: "The challenges of conducting fieldwork of this scope and scale in such remote locations are enormous".

The five-year project will begin this October, and the data gathered will be shared with other scientists.


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