The Antarctic ice shelf could crack and disintegrate over the next decade, allowing Florida-sized ice to glide and raise sea levels on foot, scientists warned Wednesday.
A dramatic snowfall could occur in 2031, starting with the Thwaites Glacier, says Erin Pettit, a professor at Oregon State University who studies glacier and ice sheet dynamics.
The ice, a river with flowing ice, is prevented from falling into the sea by the eastern ice, which sits on the surface of the underwater mountain and collapses.
A new study by Pettit presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans suggests that the final collapse of the ice shelf could occur "within 5 years" and mark the beginning of the end of the Thwaites Glacier.
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The ice on the shelf has recently filled the cracks that stretch straight in the middle of the shelf as fast as 2 miles (1.24 miles) a year, the study found.
Scientists have pointed to a winding road that they say is a possible place for the ice shelf to crack and disintegrate.
Pettit's research is still under review to be published in Cryosphere, a scientific journal.
Thwaites are “the world's largest glacier” and “have doubled in size over the past 30 years,” says Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and a research fellow.
"If the Thwaites collapse, it will pull a large part of the ice west of Antarctica," Scambos said in a statement. It is therefore important to get a clear picture of how snow will behave in the next 100 years.
Thwaites account for 4 percent of the world's annual sea level rise, according to the British Antarctic Survey. But if the shelf collapses, that figure could rise to 25 percent, say scientists.
All the water in Thwaites Glacier could raise sea levels by 2 feet - but if the collapse causes nearby glaciers to fall, global sea level could rise by as much as 10 feet, says Scambos.
A series of Twitiite scientific studies in recent years have shown that massive ice is melting faster and faster than scientists have ever anticipated.
By 2019, scientists discovered a 6-kilometer-long, 1,000-foot-deep hole under ice that has lost 14 billion tons of ice, reports NBC News.
Later that year, researchers compared Antarctic aerial films taken in the 1970s with current radar data, which showed that Thwaites were melting much faster than researchers thought.