For the first time in seven decades, the United States and the United Kingdom are re-joining forces in a massive scientific project designed to study the stability of the Thwaites Glacier. This Florida-sized ice body lies in the remote region of West Antarctica and poses a serious environmental threat due to its risk of collapse.
The announcement was made today in a National Science Foundation (NSF) news release outlining the details of the five-year collaboration, which aims to understand how fast the Thwaites Glacier is melting and whether it is expected to collapse within the next few decades.
The U.S. and the U.K are pooling substantial financial resources totaling $25 million, as well as scientific and logistical resources, in order to deploy research teams in remote West Antarctica. The scientists are tasked with gathering crucial data on the Thwaites Glacier, which is considered the world’s most dangerous glacier.
“Reducing scientific uncertainty about the likelihood, timing and magnitude of the collapse of West Antarctic glaciers is an international priority,” shows the NSF news release.
The research project, called the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, is the biggest scientific expedition ever undertaken in Antarctica, the BBC reports. The project involves around 100 scientists and is set to begin in October. The study will last until 2021.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier is a stringent environmental problem that could significantly affect sea levels worldwide. The glacier is currently in rapid retreat and already accounts for around 4 percent in global sea level rise, states the NSF news release, noting that this amount has doubled since the mid-1990s.
“Satellites show the Thwaites region is changing rapidly,” said William Easterling, assistant director for Geosciences at NSF.
Probing the risks of its collapse to understand how quickly it would impact global sea levels is a massive undertaking that requires sophisticated data collecting equipment and on-ground research teams that only an international effort could provide, Easterling stressed in the news release.
The teams set to deploy in Antarctica in the fall will be measuring the rates the Thwaites’ ice volume is changing, a task that poses “enormous” challenges due to the glacier’s remote location, Easterling pointed out.
“The fate of the Thwaites Glacier is one the big unknowns in Antarctic science,” said Duncan Wingham, chief executive of the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is shaping up to become the largest U.S.-U.K. scientific venture since the late 1940s when the two nations last teamed up to map the Antarctic Peninsula.