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Massive Antarctica ice shelf melting faster than expected; could raise sea levels sharply

The floating portion of the Thwaites glacier in western Antarctica is breaking apart in this undated photo.

The Thwaites glacier is melting much faster than computer models predict and the cause is warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the southern ocean.

California researchers say a faster than expected melt of a major glacier in western Antarctica could impact sea levels in San Diego.

Research presented at the American Geophysical Research meeting last week finds a disturbing trend about the massive glacier on the western portion of Antarctica.

Satellites have found evidence that warm ocean waters are helping melt the massive Thwaites glacier much faster than computer models have predicted. If huge chunks of ice break off the glacier, which is mostly on land, and they slip into the sea, the development could have huge implications for San Diego.


“The sea level rise that we’re getting from that part of Antarctic, it’s not immediate, but we will see it here offshore in San Diego,” said Helen Fricker, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography glaciologist. “And any large changes in Antarctica we will eventually notice here.”

RELATED: San Diego Researcher Studies Lake Collapse On Antarctica Ice Shelf

The Thwaites glacier sits in a catchment basin that is about the size of Nevada and there is a massive amount of ice held there. If the ice holding back the landlocked portion of the glacier gives way, it could raise global sea levels several feet.

“For several years now the Thwaites glacier,” said Jamin Greenbaum, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography research geophysicist, “the grounded part that forms the ice tongue has been known to be the fastest thinning part of the continent and where the most mass is being lost.”

Thwaites glacier in this undated photo

Greenbaum is heading to the glacier and will be doing surveys of the ice sheet using helicopters and instruments researchers can drop into the area.

RELATED: San Diego Research Finds Atmospheric Rivers Building Ice In Antarctica

Right now the glacier appears to be melting faster than models predict.

Greenbaum’s research could uncover data that’ll help make those models more accurate.

Massive Antarctica ice shelf melting faster than expected; could raise sea levels sharply