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West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Collapse Triggers Sea Level Warning

May 13, 2014

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Two teams of scientists say the long-feared collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun, kicking off what they say will be a centuries-long, “unstoppable” process that could raise sea levels by as much as 15 feet.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is under way,” Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a news release about one of the studies published Monday. “This study provides a more qualitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place.”

The findings from Joughin and his colleagues, appearing in the journal Science, indicate that in some places, Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is losing tens of feet, or several meters, of ice elevation every year.

They estimate that Thwaites Glacier would probably disappear entirely in somewhere between 200 and 1,000 years. That loss would raise global sea levels by nearly 2 feet (60 centimeters). The glacier serves as a linchpin for the rest of the West Antarctic Ice sheet, which has enough frozen mass to cause another 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) of sea level rise.

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