UK, US launch $25 million project to study 'doomsday' glacier in West Antarctica

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 30, 2018, 04.10 PM(IST)

Representative Image. Photograph:( Reuters )

The United Kingdon and the United States have now decided to start a US $25 million projects to study the risks of Thwaites glacier in west Antarctica, dubbed the “doomsday glacier.”

About 100 researchers at Penn State University will soon be descending to West Antarctica to get an idea of the future of global sea level. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration plans to deploy six teams to the remote ice sheet, where they will study it using a host of tools, including instrument-carrying seals and earth-sensing seismographs. 

As per reports, the collapse of the glacier could begin in the next few centuries or decades. The scientists would study the Thwaites Glacier, which is roughly the size of Florida or Britain, in West Antarctica, the UK Natural Environment Research Council and US National Science Foundation said in a joint statement.

“Rising sea levels are a globally important issue which cannot be tackled by one country alone," UK science minister Sam Gyimah said. 

The Thwaites glacier alone is thought to have accounted for about 4% of global sea-level rises, doubling its contribution since the mid-1990s.

The funds will be used by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the National Science Foundation of the US, involving about 100 scientists, in the biggest joint project by the two countries in Antarctica since the end of a mapping project in the region in the late 1940s. Researchers from other countries, including South Korea, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland, will also contribute.

Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier are two of the biggest and fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica.

If both abruptly collapsed, allowing ice far inland to flow faster into the oceans, world sea levels could rise by more than a metre (3 feet), threatening cities from Shanghai to San Francisco and low-lying coastal regions.

The scientists would deploy planes, hot water drills, satellite measurements, ships and robot submarines to one of the remotest parts of the planet to see "whether the glacier's collapse could begin in the next few decades or centuries," the statement said.

Despite satellites, "there are still many aspects of the ice and ocean that cannot be determined from space," said Ted Scambos, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the lead U.S. scientific coordinator.