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Collapse Of Antarctic Glaciers Has Begun And Its Irreversible

Update Date: May 13, 2014 12:10 PM EDT
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A slow motioned and irreversible collapse of a massive cluster of glaciers in Antarctica has begun, according to two new studies. The collapse could cause sea levels to rise across the planet by 4 feet in the next 200 years. 

Earlier it was estimated that the cluster in the Amundsen Sea region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would last for thousands of years despite global climate change. However, two new studies have contrastingly found that the loss is underway now as warming ocean water melts away the base of the ice shelf, and is occurring far more rapidly than scientists expected, LA Times reported. 

"There is no red button to stop this," said Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine professor of Earth system science and the lead author of one of the studies, conducted with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and scheduled for publication in a journal of the American Geophysical Union, in the press release.

The six glaciers have passed the "the point of no return" Rignot added clearing that the total collapse cannot be prevented. 

"The only question is how fast it's going to go," he said.

Researchers said the fastest scenario is 200 years and the longest is more than 1,000 years. 

"There's been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is under way," said lead author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory, in the press release. "This study provides a more quantitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place."

"Previously, when we saw thinning we didn't necessarily know whether the glacier could slow down later, spontaneously or through some feedback," Joughin said. "In our model simulations it looks like all the feedbacks tend to point toward it actually accelerating over time; there's no real stabilizing mechanism we can see."

The study is published in the journal Science. A separate study will be published in Geophysical Research Letters that concludes similarly. 

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