A section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has declined to a point that’s irreversible, two groups of NASA scientists reported last week. As NASA’s narration explains below, six glaciers in particular are rapidly melting into the Amundsen Sea, and there are no barriers like mountains or hills to halt this retreat. Scientists point to climate change and warmer ocean temperatures as causes.
"The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” said Eric Rignot, glaciologist and lead author of the UC Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory study, in a NASA press release. “The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers.”
So, what does this mean for our oceans?
These glaciers already significantly contribute to sea level rise, but their collapse calls for an increase in global sea level predictions, says NASA. For example, the Thwaites Glacier, one of the six that’s rapidly retreating, could disappear within centuries and increase sea level by two feet alone. The remaining ice sheet contains enough ice to increase sea levels by an additional 10 to 13 feet, according to the press release for the second study by University of Washington researchers. And while this change wouldn’t be sudden – estimated to occur anywhere from 200 to 1000 years – scientists say this scenario is inevitable.