Giant cracks discovered in Antarctic glaciers

Antarctica’s two most important glaciers, Pine Island and the Thwaites Glacier, are crumbling faster than ever. When these glaciers melt, the sea level will rise by a meter.

This is the first step towards their complete melting and a sharp rise in sea level by about a meter, according to researchers from the Netherlands, who studied the entire data set from ESA, NASA and USGS satellites for 1997-2019. Their work is published in PNAS.

The 1997 images show no significant damage to the glaciers yet, the researchers say. In the 2016 photo, the morphological changes of the glaciers have already appeared, and satellite images for 2019 showed that Pine Island and the Thwaites Glacier are covered with cracks of larger and smaller sizes.

Irreversible changes have occurred in just the past decade, scientists say. The most intense glaciers have collapsed in the past few years. Warming oceans have led to the thinning and retreat of the ice shelf and its many faults. About 24% of the ice in West Antarctica is rapidly thinning and unstable.

Observing these glaciers in the coming years will be critical to understanding the future of the oceans, climatologists say. So far, computer models cannot give a definite answer about how quickly they will disappear forever.

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