The planet’s most enormous ice sheets may be in less danger of unexpected collapse than previously believed, a new study from the University of Michigan, published in Science, suggests.
The study was published in Science, and it includes simulating the vanishing of West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, one of the world’s most colossal and unstable glaciers.
Researchers analyzed the collapse of numerous heights of ice cliffs – near-vertical formations that are born where glaciers and ice shelves come in contact with the ocean.
They discovered that instability doesn’t always provoke rapid disintegration.
Jeremy Bassis, U-M associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, explained that they discovered that, over long timescales, ice acts like a viscous fluid, a lot like pancakes spreading out in frying pans.
“So the ice spreads out and thins faster than it can fail and this can stabilize collapse. But if the ice can’t thin fast enough, that’s when you have the possibility of rapid glacier collapse,” he added.
The researchers analyzed the variables of ice failure and ice flow, combined them for the first time, and discovered that stretching and thinning of ice in combination with buttressing from trapped chunks of ice, may temper the outcome of fracture-induced marine ice-cliff instability.
The new discovery allowed for a new perspective regarding a former theory known as marine ice-cliff instability, which hinted that if the height of an ice cliff goes past a particular threshold, it can abruptly disintegrate due to its own weight in a chain reaction of ice fractures.
The Thwaites Glacier of Antarctica, often called the “Doomsday Glacier”, is getting closer to that threshold and may contribute to nearly three feet of sea-level rise in the possibility of an entire collapse.
The glacier is approximately 74,000 square miles, roughly the size of Florida, and is especially sensitive to climate and ocean modifications.