Despite the fears of many scientists, the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet, which could cause a sudden rise in sea levels and hit residents of coastal areas, can still be avoided, scientists say.
One of the many problems with global warming is that glaciers are melting earlier and faster, up to three times faster than before, according to the WWF. Glaciers and polar ice caps could thus experience “tipping points” beyond which the consequences of global warming for both the human species and biodiversity are irreversible. Last September, a scientific study warned of the melting of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Called “the glacier of the apocalypse”, its complete disappearance would cause an unprecedented rise in sea levels that would transform the continents. But to a certain extent, nothing is decided yet and their fate is still in our hands. Indeed, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is not “inevitable,” researchers concluded in a new study published Monday in Nature Communications.
A slowdown in the rate of ice cap retreat
Is the collapse of the West Antarctic ice cap irreversible? While some scientists fear it regardless of future climate change, others are more nuanced. A team of researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom has been monitoring the development of West Antarctica, home to huge, highly unstable glaciers and containing enough ice to raise sea levels by 3.3 metres. According to their satellite recordings, ice sheet retreat slowed in a vulnerable coastal region between 2003 and 2015, caused by fluctuations in sea temperatures. For this reason, in their opinion, nothing matters as long as we drastically change our lifestyle, consumption and production. “It depends on how the climate will change in the coming decades, a change that we can positively influence by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Eric Steig, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Glaciers that are sensitive to climatic fluctuations
In their report, the researchers explain that winds typically blow from the west in these regions of the world, creating warmer and more saline water, accelerating the melting of the ice. But during the period studied, the intensity of these winds off the Admunsen Sea (South Pacific) had been weaker, sparing the glacier some of the water attacking it. “There is a close connection between the climate and the behavior of the ice,” says Frazer Christie of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. “We have the opportunity to stem the loss of ice in West Antarctica – if we reduce our CO2 emissions,” he recalls. Although he was not involved in this study, Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Research Institute for the Impact of Climate Change praised the method used, but stressed that the period studied was “a blink of an eye” from an environmental perspective. According to the scientist, it is necessary to continue to predict sea level rise “with the hypothesis of destabilization of West Antarctica.”
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