New research shows how rising temperatures have irreversibly altered both the Arctic and Antarctic. Ripple effects will be felt around the globe.
Now climate change has turned the ice shelf into a threat — to Pettit’s field work, and to the world.
Planet-warming pollution from burning fossil fuels and other human activities has already raised global temperatures more than 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit). But the effects are particularly profound at the poles, where rising temperatures have seriously undermined regions once locked in ice.
In research presented this week at the world’s biggest earth science conference, Pettit showed that the Thwaites ice shelf could collapse within the next three to five years, unleashing a river of ice that could dramatically raise sea levels. Aerial surveys document how warmer conditions have allowed beavers to invade the Arctic tundra, flooding the landscape with their dams. Large commercial ships are increasingly infiltrating formerly frozen areas, disturbing wildlife and generating disastrous amounts of trash. In many Alaska Native communities, climate impacts compounded the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to food shortages among people who have lived off this land for thousands of years.
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