Lhermitte states that the goal of this model was not to predict the exact date when the Thwaites would collapse. This is next to impossible right now, as there are too many other unknown factors to consider, such as the speed of climate change that is heating both the air and water temperatures around the glaciers, as well as the ocean around Antarctica There is movement of streams. (A 2014 study published in the journal Science Scientists by the University of Washington, using satellite data and numerical modeling, estimated that the West Antarctic ice sheet, including Thwaite, could collapse in 200 to 1,000 years.)
Rather, Lhermitte’s model is an attempt to incorporate ice sheet damage into similar global climate models that predict both the rise in sea level and the future of Antarctica’s glaciers. “The understanding of how much and how much these glaciers are going to change is still unknown,” says Lermitt. “We don’t know all the processes. We have seen this damage with this study, breaking down these ice shelves and what their potential contribution might be to sea level rise. ”
The glacier’s ice move is difficult to predict because ice behaves as both a solid and a liquid, says Penn State University professor of geology Richard Elle, who was not affiliated with any of these studies. Elle says the study reveals how new and important the glacier fracture is because it gives more insight into how fast they can collapse. In an email to WIRED, Elle compared the science of studying how Antarctic glaciers move toward a bridge to process engineering.
“You don’t want to break your bridge, and you don’t want to need to predict exactly the conditions that will break it, so you design with a large safety margin. We can’t ‘design’ Thwaites, So we face these big uncertainties. It is important to evaluate parts of it, though remembering that it is still fracture mechanics, and it may still surprise us, one way or the other, “Elle wrote .
Lhermitte feels that the results of his study mean that Antarctic glaciers should be closely watched in the coming years for any signs of rapid change that could lead to environmental catastrophe. Regarding the glaciers of the Therites and Pine Island, Lermet says, “These are big sleeping giants.” “We begin to get curious if they will sleep or wake up with sea level rise.”
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