What Would Happen if Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier Collapses?

A map of where Thwaites is located. (Photo11: USA TODAY)

The Thwaites Glacier is one of the most dangerous glaciers in the world, and scientists are eager to travel to Antarctica to study it.

NASA researchers released a study in January that said a giant cavity roughly two-thirds the size of Manhattan was rapidly melting underneath the glacier due to climate change. The cavity is big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, with most of it melting over the past three years.

Even before this cavity, Thwaites’ rapid ice loss and potential impact on global sea levels were significant enough that researchers from around the world planned to physically travel there starting this year.

Only 28 people have ever set foot on the glacier, according to Britain’s Natural Environmental Research Council, or NERC.

So what might happen if Thwaites does collapse?

“It could potentially destabilize the whole region of West Antarctica,” Lucas Zoet, a University of Wisconsin geoscientist, , told USA TODAY.

Thwaites is a ‘wildcard’ for sea levels

The glacier sits in West Antarctica and flows into the Amundsen Sea. Roughly the size of Florida, Thwaites’ melting is currently responsible for about 4 percent of global sea level rise, according to NASA in its recent study on the glacier’s giant hole.

“It’s a major throughway of how ice gets discharged from West Antarctica into the ocean,” said Zoet.

Thwaites has been difficult to study because it’s far from U.S. bases in the Antarctic and also because the weather is “particularly bad,” said Zoet.

The glacier measures more than 70,000 square miles, making it one of the largest glaciers in the world, said NERC.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Brett Molina