In a paper that outlined this marine ice cliff instability theory in 2016, authors Rob DeConto from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and David Pollard from Penn State University raised alarm by predicting that Antarctica by itself could contribute up to 3 feet of sea level rise by 2100. At the start of the series, the ice shelf (left) is tattooed with parallel lines of blue dots. This winter’s expedition aboard the Palmer marked the first field season of a five-year, international research collaboration to discover just how much, and how fast, Thwaites Glacier might add to rising seas. The Milne ice shelf lost more than 40 per cent of its ice over two days end of July 2020. Read all of the reporting from the eight-week expedition. Bio. If every country met its Paris Agreement commitments, the world would warm to 2.7 degrees Celsius. An aerial view shows the breakup of the Milne Ice Shelf in late July 2020 (left) and animals found living in its ice cavity (right) at the site boxed in red ().The ice shelf is in the so-called Last Ice Area, which observations and modeling show as the band of thickest sea ice in the Arctic Ocean that occurs along the northern coast of Canada and Greenland. “Suddenly, it was making sense with what we were seeing out of the windows.”. The collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf was captured in this series of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite between January 31 and April 13, 2002. After the 2002 Larsen B ice shelf collapse, glaciers in the embayment emptied directly into the ocean. “We could be observing it right now and not really realize that it’s happening, and that’s pretty scary to think about.”. Chris Mooney. “It was quite remarkable,” Larter said of the satellite images. The Milne ice shelf, which is situated in Tuvaijuittuq, is now adrift. Coupled with the thinning of the glacier and its faster flow, “this [event] is one expression of the fact that Thwaites Glacier is putting more and more ice into the ocean.”. Scientists fear the collapse of Thwaites Glacier could one day destabilize surrounding glaciers and eventually trigger up to 11 feet of global sea level rise. Into the Thaw: Decoding Thwaites Glacier Days after the Nathaniel B. Palmer became the first ship to sail across the 75-mile face of West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, a piece of its floating ice shelf bigger than Manhattan crumbled off the glacier into a flotilla of icebergs. Thwaites’ ice shelf stabilizes the whole glacier, acting like a cork in a wine bottle to slow the seaward flow of ice from the continent’s interior. “Is it over a century, over a thousand years, or can you do in a decade? The next good view of the area came on February 23; several more long and narrow ice bergs had fractured from the shelf in the south. Antarctica’s ice shelves, floating extensions of the ice sheet, help slow the flow of ice into the ocean. A chunk of Greenland's largest remaining ice shelf - larger than the city of Paris - has broken off into the Arctic due to rapid climate change, according to scientists.. Follow. Warm ocean temperatures in the Weddell Sea that occurred during the same period might have caused thinning and melting on the underside of the ice shelf. Scambos, T. A., Hulbe, C., Fahnestock, M., & Bohlander, J. Seasonal sea ice began to form and locked most of the ice debris in place for the winter, although the April 13 image shows that a few of the largest icebergs from the southern portion of the shelf had already drifted out of the area. The collapse occurred on July 30 and 31, reducing the last fully intact ice shelf in Canada by 43%. Boston’s affluent Back Bay neighborhood was previously a tidal bay in the city until a 19th-century land reclamation project made construction of the neighborhood possible. The red dot shows the approximate location of the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel each day. The Ex-Markham Ice Shelf collapsed August 2008, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf calved two ice islands between 22 July and 24 July 2008, the entire Ex-Ayles Ice Shelf calved to form an ice … Nor was the Larsen B the last Antarctic ice shelf to disappear. “Whether it leads directly to further changes or not, we just have to wait and see,” Larter said. Livable Planet The Larsen B ice shelf existed for 12,000 years before it fell apart in 2002, separate studies showed. For Boston, it’s something the city plans to adapt to. Environment Once the ice shelf is gone, ice will flow into the sea unchecked. The pale blue color is largely due to the reflection from this ice. In World of Change. Thwaites Glacier doomed? … Yet some find opportunities in the crisis. They had never witnessed such a large area—3,250 square kilometers, or 1,250 square miles—disintegrate so rapidly. RADARSAT-1 image of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, 12 h 47 min (GMT), 30 August 1998. The collapse of the Milne Ice Shelf in a combination of satellite images taken July 30 to August 4, 2020, over Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. Chris Mooney. “It's another step in the [progressive] retreat,” Larter said. If the entire floating ice shelf at Thwaites fractures into icebergs, what’s left at the edge of the glacier is a giant cliff of ice whose shape makes it particularly vulnerable to runaway collapse. Some communities are going beyond these national and international projections and incorporating potential melting from Antarctica’s ice sheets into their local sea level rise estimates. Thwaites’ ice shelf stabilizes the whole glacier, acting like a cork in a wine bottle to slow the seaward flow of ice from the continent’s interior. U.S. Antarctic Program scientists were in the north-western Weddell Sea investigating the sediment record in a deep glacial trough of roughly 1,000,000 square kilometres (390,000 sq mi) (twice the size of Texas or France). I don't think anyone can, hand on heart, say which of those it is yet. “We’d like to plan for 2100. The ice debris field did not become a permanent fixture in Larsen Bay. Distribution of supraglacial lakes in relation to wind scour zones, exposed rock, blue ice, near-surface wind speed, surface melt rate and ice shelf vulnerability to surface-melt-induced collapse. In 2020, its size was around 187 sq kilometers. Many low-lying coastal cities, from the US to the Netherlands to Bangladesh, are built on land partially reclaimed from the sea. Once the glacier has retreated to a certain point, the tall cliffs of ice may crumble under their own weight. The icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer, chartered by the US National Science Foundation, is shown. It is the second-largest ice shelf in the Arctic Ocean. In the near term, these changes will mean more frequent, coastal flooding in low-lying areas, including some of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods. DeConto said they are still working to identify the exact tipping point that would trigger this dramatic fracturing of the West Antarctic ice sheet, but work he presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting this past winter suggests it’s somewhere between 2-3 degrees Celsius of warming. And how fast it might happen once it starts. The Milne Ice Shelf, a 4,000 years old shelf is a fragment of the former Ellesmere Ice Shelf, located in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. Pure, thick ice absorbs a small amount of red light. This Antarctic ice shelf could collapse by 2020, NASA says. As the ice shelf thins, it lifts away from the seafloor and loses its ability to act as a brake on the flow of ice from the continent. The Milne Ice Shelf, the largest remaining intact ice shelf in Canada, has collapsed. At 11 feet, much of the city would be underwater without massive, new infrastructure projects to protect it. Reporter covering climate change, energy and the environment. The questions swirling around the future of the West Antarctic ice sheet add to the considerable uncertainty policymakers and planners face when trying to prepare for sea level rise. There are several reasons why ice shelves disintegrate rapidly rather than slowly and steadily shrinking. This big blowout confirmed that there's very little actual ice shelf left in the western part of Thwaites Glacier. But the wide range of scenarios possible by 2100 makes planning for century’s end impossible, according to Alisha Pegan, coordinator of the city’s Climate Ready Boston program. Other factors might have contributed to the unusually rapid and near-total disintegration of the shelf. Water “You'd expect it might lead to even further acceleration of flow of the glacier,” Larter said of the blowout. Photo-like satellite images are made by combining the satellite’s observations of red, green, and blue wavelengths of light reflected from the Earth’s surface. The last intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed. When certain thresholds are passed, catastrophic ice shelf disintegration through iceberg calving is initiated. Melting ice has made the region’s abundant mineral deposits and oil and gas reserves more accessible by ship. This submarine’s historic tour under Thwaites Glacier will help scientists predict sea level rise, On a journey to Antarctica, a New Orleans chef awakens to the threat of melting ice, These high-tech seals are charting future sea level rise, These scientists used small explosions to 'see' under Antarctica and measure how fast a key glacier will melt, For this marine tech, Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier drives home threat of climate change, more than a quarter of the population would face inundation. ECCC/ESA Copernicus/Handout via … As seasonal sea ice melted the following summer, the mélange began to drift away with the currents, and in many summers since the collapse, the bay has been completely ice free. None of the protections necessary to preserve coastal communities will come cheap. The thinning and rate of future ice‐shelf demise is notoriously unpredictable, but models suggest increased shelf‐melt and calving will become more common. Flight Center. The city is working with communities to develop neighborhood plans focusing on solutions like raised parks along Boston Harbor that serve both as spaces for recreation and flood barriers. This is the last in a series of deep dives into the science and people of the Nathaniel B. Palmer’s 2019 voyage to Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. The collapse of Larsen B has revealed a thriving chemotrophic ecosystem 800 m (half a mile) below the sea. Now, about a third of Boston is at risk of coastal flooding if sea levels rise between 2 and 8 feet higher than they are today, Wormser said. As the surface melt ponds began to fracture the shelf, strong winds or waves might have flexed the shelf, helping to trigger a runaway break up. The discovery was accidental. “They filled in a lot of the [Boston] Harbor with horses and shovels,” Wormser said, “and they never contemplated sea level rise.”. Rignot, E., Bamber, J. L., van den Broeke, M. R., Davis, C., Li, Y., van de Berg, W. J., & van Meijgaard, E. (2008). New, not-yet-published research from the same pair revises the estimate for the end of the century downward substantially, but the longer-term picture is still bleak, with a rate of sea level rise that could “be very challenging for coastal planners and engineers to cope with,” DeConto wrote in an email, “likely leading to large-scale retreat from the coast in some places and loss of some low lying islands.”. Scientists race against time to find out. The northernmost section of the Larsen Ice Shelf Complex, called Larsen A, lost about 1,500 square kilometers of ice in an abrupt event in January 1995. Thwaites Glacier is melting fast, and scientists fear its collapse could one day destabilize surrounding glaciers and eventually trigger up to 11 feet of global sea level rise. Thwaites is already losing twice as much ice a year as it was in the late 1990s. Following the even more spectacular collapse in 2002, the Larsen A and B glaciers experienced an abrupt acceleration, about 300% on average, and their mass loss went from 2–4 gigatonnes per year in 1996 and 2000 (a gigatonne is one billion metric tonnes), to between 22 and 40 gigatonnes per year in 2006. Although sea ice occasionally occupies the bay during cold winters, it is no substitute for the ice shelf in terms of its influence on the glaciers that once fed the Larsen B. The area had been … The last remnant of the northern part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf collapsed in early April 2009. The link between climate warming and break-up of ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula. The seafloor underneath the glacier slopes downward as it goes inland in what scientists call a “retrograde slope,” and the ice sitting on top of it gets thicker and thicker. Many of the bergs were too tall and narrow to float upright. An iceberg in the Southern Ocean, is pictured here as the Nathaniel B. Palmer sailed by during its return trip from Antarctica in March 2019. The research examined the collapse of three major Antarctic ice shelves between 2002 and 2009, during which thousands of square kilometres of ice were lost. Without the buffer of an ice shelf, the glacier’s flow accelerated, stretching and thinning the ice. Tagged: When all these visible wavelengths are strongly reflected, the surface looks white; when the reddest light is absorbed, the reflection takes on a cyan tinge. The Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, from which a Delaware-size iceberg broke away two years ago, could be at risk of collapse. Satellite images soon showed where these icebergs were coming from. Credit: Courtesy of Rob Larter/ British Antarctic Survey. ... Over the course of just a few weeks, the ice shelf splintered, broke into pieces and collapsed entirely into the sea. Antarctica’s Ice Shelves May Be at Growing Risk of Collapse. Vietnam, for example, where more than a quarter of the population would face inundation if the entire West Antarctic ice sheet were to collapse, uses IPCC data in its national climate report.