US and UK launch massive program to study the Thwaites Glacier

The United Kingdom and the United States on Monday launched a vast scientific program to determine how fast the Thwaites Glacier, one of the largest in West Antarctic, could collapse.

The collapse of this glacier “could have a major impact on the sea level on a global scale,” says the British Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in a statement.

To determine whether this collapse could “begin in the next decades or centuries,” the NERC and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) will mobilize a hundred scientists, water jet drillers capable of drilling 1,500 meters inside the ice or autonomous submarines.

“Satellites show that the Thwaites area is changing rapidly, but to know how far and how fast the sea level is going to evolve, scientists need to be in the field with sophisticated equipment,” says William Easterling, a senior scientist with the NSF quoted in the release.

Known as the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), this five-year program is the “largest” ever undertaken by the two countries in Antarctica for more than 70 years. It aims to “provide answers to some of the big questions facing scientists trying to predict sea-level rise,” says NERC.

“The Thwaites Glacier is already contributing to sea level rise and understanding of its likely collapse in the next century is of vital importance,” added the UK’s Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah.

According to NASA, between 2002 and 2016, Antarctica lost 125 gigatonnes of ice a year. The white continent concentrates 62% of the world’s freshwater reserves, its thaw should notably contribute to desalinize of the seas, a fatal mechanism for many marine species

Sarah Ali

Sarah is currently pursuing a degree in Pharmacology at the University of Florida. She focuses on health news and tips for The Talking Democrat.