Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Future of Thwaites Glacier and its contribution to sea level rise

The aim of this research programme is to substantially improve both decadal and longer-term projections of ice loss and sea level rise originating from Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

Budget:
$20 million
Duration:
2017 to 2022
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), National Science Foundation (NSF)

The scope and what we're doing

The objective of this programme is to substantially improve both decadal and longer-term (century-to-multi-century) projections of ice loss and sea level rise originating from Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

Considerable uncertainty remains in projections of future ice loss from West Antarctica. Reducing this uncertainty is an international priority that was recently highlighted by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research in its Horizon Scan 2020 (SCAR, 2015). The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS, 2015) places prediction of ice mass loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet as the topmost priority for Antarctic research, and singles out Thwaites Glacier as a “region of particular concern”.

Since the 1990s, satellites have shown accelerating ice loss driven by ocean change in five neighbouring glacier catchments, including Thwaites Glacier, that drain more than one third of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The rate of ice loss there doubled in six years and now accounts for about 10% of global sea level rise. The most rapid ice loss is currently from Pine Island Glacier, which has been the focus of the NERC Ice Sheet Stability (iSTAR) programme and National Science Foundation-funded science. Recent studies indicate the greatest risk for future rapid sea level rise now arises from Thwaites Glacier due to the large changes already underway, its potential contribution to sea level rise, and the societally relevant timescales of decades to centuries over which major, irreversible changes are possible in the system.

The programme will have a direct and significant impact on understanding the stability of marine ice sheets and specifically the West Antarctic ice sheet in the vicinity of Thwaites Glacier, and will contribute to the ice sheet modelling community toolkit to narrow the uncertainties in sea level projections. In addition, the programme will directly contribute to improving risk assessments that coastal communities need for decisions about adaptation and long-range planning.

Who to contact

Jessica Surma

Email: jessica.surma@nerc.ukri.org 

Telephone: 01793 411600

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