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Chris Mooney @chriscmooney
, 19 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
1. I wanted to add some additional notes this morning on why it is such a big deal that the U.S. and UK are jointly spending tens of millions to send some 100 scientists – and Boaty McBoatface! -- to study Thwaites glacier, Antarctica.…
2. Basically, this is an urgent research mission to determine just how bad sea level rise in this century could get.
3. Antarctic experts and sea level experts broadly agree that if there is one glacier that could lead to far higher oceans in this century, in our lifetimes, it is Thwaites.
4. So they have to go to one of the most remote and inaccessible places on Earth to get the data to feed the models to determine just how bad things could be.
5. Most signs are, admittedly, bad. Thwaites is huge (the side of Florida!), and losing an amazing 50 billion tons of ice per year.
6. In other words, something -- there is some debate as to what -- has already given the glacier a kick and destabilized it.
7. If Thwaites does continue retreating backward, the ocean just gets deeper and at some point it is hard to see how you would still be able to sustain a West Antarctic ice sheet.
8. Or as one expert put it to me for the story: “The thinking is that if it goes inland, there are no bumps to hold it, and it will go faster and faster and retreat effectively to the South Pole.”
9. There are even suspicions that in past interglacial eras, one reason seas were much higher is that there was open ocean where Thwaites currently is.
10. So what scientists are seeking is detailed data on the processes that will control how such a retreat could play out. Along the way, it's possible they may uncover some constraint – something about the ocean, something about the bedrock maybe -- that slows it all down.
11. At the same time, I guess they are also trying to find out what the possible speed limit for Thwaites might be.
12.Models have already been run that try to capture this – including one that more or less doubled the potential sea level rise we could see in this century. But I guess scientists aren’t entirely sold that those represent *the answer* at this point.…
13. So we are looking at multiple Antarctic seasons of scientists on the ice and in ships, etc, gathering information. This year is mainly logistics, just to get ready for actually research.
14. What I’m getting at is that we won’t have answers any time soon.
15. With the timeframe for the next @IPCC_CH report being 2020/2021, it is not clear to me how much of this new information will feed into the official body of climate science by then.
16.(As usual, it looks like the sea level section of the next IPCC report will be one of the most important ones to watch.)
17. If new info about Thwaites requires further tightening of climate policies, meanwhile, it also isn’t clear whether that knowledge would be fully downloaded in time for the first global stocktake under Paris in 2023. It clearly won’t be in time for the 2018 Talanoa dialogue
18. So in sum -- we are now probably 3-5 years away from answers to the biggest question about sea level rise.
19. Small island nations, coastal megacities, and many others can only watch and wait intently. But at least a major and sure-to-be definitive study is now getting underway. /end…
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