'Unstoppable' glacial collapse in west Antarctica will lead to metres' rise in global sea levels

The collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds enough water to raise global sea levels by several metres, has already begun and is ‘unstoppable’, say two new reports.

Independent teams of researchers from Nasa and the University of Washington reached the same conclusion after using topographical maps, airborne radar and computer models to plot the course of the climate change-driven retreat.

They estimated that the fast-moving Thwaites Glacier will probably collapse into the sea somewhere in the next 200 to 1,000 years, raising sea levels by two feet.

This glacier acts as a dam for the rest of the western ice sheet and its disappearance could precipitate the collapse of a frozen mass large enough to raise sea levels by three to four metres.

"There's been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behaviour is under way," said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, in a press release. "This study provides a more qualitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place."

Read more: East Antarctica melt could cause a global coastal destruction

A second study led by Nasa and the University of California declared the collapse of Thwaites and other glaciers had “passed the point of no return” and that glacial retreat would lead to a rise in sea levels of 1.2 metres.

"We finally have hit this point where we have enough observations to put this all together, to say, 'Wow, we really are in this state’,” Nasa glaciologist Tom Wagner told reporters during a conference.

The studies both suggest that sea-level rise will be greater than previously estimated by the United Nations’ IPCC report earlier this year. This forecast had not factored in the melting of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Scientists have warned about the dangers posed by the West Antarctic ice sheet for decades but say they had previously underestimated the pace of chance.

“Previously, when we saw thinning we didn’t necessarily know whether the glacier could slow down later, spontaneously or through some feedback,” said Joughin. “In our model simulations it looks like all the feedbacks tend to point toward it actually accelerating over time; there’s no real stabilizing mechanism we can see.”

Rising sea levels could threaten tens of millions of homes in coastal cities around the world and cause billions in financial damages.

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
i100
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Behaviour Support Assistant (BSA)

(?19,817 ? ?21,734)Pro Rata: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support Assis...

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?