Large glaciers along the Antarctic and Greenland coastlines are in danger of a “catastrophic breakup”, according to new research. University of Michigan scientists have studied the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland and the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in Antarctica and claimed they are facing the risk of “catastrophic disintegration”.
Jeremy Bassis, one of the paper’s authors, said that if this begins to happen, sea levels could be close to the higher ends of what they are predicted to rise to in the next 100 years.
The reason these ice stretches are particularly vulnerable is down to a number of factors, such as the fact they are bordered by ocean that is “deep and unobstructed” rather than waterways such as fjords. This means that carved icebergs can float towards open water creating further room for more ice to break from the ice sheet.
The Jakonshavn Glacier is already retreating at a rapid rate due to carving – the process where large pieces of ice break off and drift into the sea. Calving accounts for roughly half of the mass that breaks off ice sheets, and can severely impact the rise in sea levels.
However, Bassis says that they still don’t understand how the other 50 per cent of mass loss from ice sheets occurs so cannot predict how quickly it will happen. But he hopes a new model they have created will help them understand about the various parameters and lead to more accurate predictions regarding future change.