What If We Planted a Trillion Trees?

What If We Planted a Trillion Trees?
How many trees are too many?

Watch the video.

An interview with Wallace Smith Broecker

The oceanographer Wallace Smith Broecker is the man who coined the term “global warming” in 1975, in a paper called “Climate Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

So what are the big things we should be worrying more about?
I really think that ice melting and sea level are the big things.
If we leave the CO2 in the air, it’s probably going to melt the Greenland ice sheet and probably Antarctica on a timescale of probably a thousand years. Of course once you get that ice in the ocean you’re never going to get it back on the continent, so it’s a net loss forever, or for a really long time.

How fast do you think the melt will be?
We don’t know. It probably won’t be catastrophic, it’ll probably be gradual, with maybe bursts of activity. But the big thing is that sea level is going to go up several meters, and maybe as much as ten meters. And that really eliminates a lot of stuff.
In 1950s, when I was in graduate school, we got 15 percent of our energy from renewables and nuclear, and 85 percent from fossil fuels. Today it’s the same. Both of them have been increasing at 3 percent a year. Renewables and nuclear are not changing in their percentage share. And in order to stop the CO2 from rising we have to go to a factor-of-ten reduction in fossil-fuel burning — at least a factor of ten. And that means changing all the world’s infrastructure.
Which will be very difficult, even if we decide to do it.
The energy companies — their whole value is what’s in the ground, and if it’s not going to be burned their stock isn’t worth very much. So they’re going to do everything they can to burn what they got — $5 trillion dollars or so worth of stuff. And India, China, and Mexico are going to start using more energy, so if rich nations cut down, it’s still going to be overwhelmed by the others. Unless something really dramatic happens, it seems like we’re on a course where we’ve been going up in fossil fuels 3 percent every year. It’s still accelerating.
So you haven’t been too encouraged by the recent news in green energy — the price falling …
Well, it’s going to change, but it’s a long thing, and Trump has removed funding for renewable energy. The Chinese of course are going like gangbusters, and that’s very difficult to predict. But still it’s hugely expensive to do all that. I’m very optimistic in most things, but not about this. This is a huge problem, and we don’t have a clue how to solve it. It’s got to involve a tax, and the word tax is death to a politician. You can clothe it some way, but still somebody’s got to pay to remove it.
Tell me about how we might remove that carbon.
In order to balance what we’re putting in today — not taking out any of what we put in yesterday — we have to take out one ton of CO2 a day. A lot is known about how to do this, although there is no test module ever built.
These devices would be about the complexity of an automobile, and the cost of material would probably be — let’s say they cost $30,000 each. You know how many of those we’d need? 100 million. To take carbon down three parts per million, you’d have to have another 100 million. Optimally spaced, so putting them so they don’t compete with one another, they’d cover all of Arizona. There are plenty of places to do it — you’d want to do it in dry climate, which is good because there’s plenty of dry land without many people living on it.
But 100 million at $30,000 would be several trillion dollars, just to build them. To operate them would be a 10 percent increase. If we’re going to take out all that we put in, that’s an enormous amount of money.
You believe that extraction is totally necessary? That we can’t deal with this problem without it?
There is one way to deal with part of it, though not all of it.
Doubling CO2 is like cranking up the sun by 2 percent. And so if we reflected away 2 percent of incoming solar radiation, we could compensate for the warming. And that would be probably 50 times cheaper than taking it out.
But this would also have other effects, right?
Yes. It involves putting SO2 in the stratosphere. The SO2 becomes sulfuric acid, with droplets that are very fine, and they back scatter 10 percent of the solar rays that hit them. So that means if you want to get rid of 2 percent of the sun’s rays, then 20 percent of all sun rays have to hit those droplets. And of course that would make our sunsets very red, would bleach the sky, would make more acid rain. But that would be spread around the planet.
A lot of scientists seem really worried about those effects.
I mean, if we have a problem, you have to think of the magnitude.
We’ve got to watch that we don’t say that the giant problem shouldn’t be solved because it creates a few smaller ones.
Do you think that SO2 approach is feasible?
There’d have to be an agreement by all nations to do it, because if only some nations do this, it would move rainfall around, and everything that happened to agriculture would get blamed on it. It would be very hard to prove any of these claims were wrong. Also, it wouldn’t stop ocean acidification, so coral reefs would still get wiped out. And, of course, if we ever stopped the program then the temperature would go back up again. If there were a war, or some catastrophe, we’d be stuck with all that extra CO2 in the air and no SO2 to combat it. But I think that in your lifetime whether to do that or not will become a big issue.
Because it will become clear that emissions reductions alone aren’t going to do the trick?
It’s going to get warmer and warmer. It’s probably going to be 20 years before it’s a hot issue.
It seems to me people don’t really appreciate how dire the situation is.
It’s hard to make it real. We’re seeing it already — birds are arriving at a different time. They seem to know what’s going on, whereas we don’t. With our big brains we can’t figure it out; they’ve figured it out.

If you think about the way that the Syrian refugee crisis has really disrupted global politics, whatever happens coming out of Bangladesh will be many times worse.
There’s something astronomers use called the Drake equation, and that asks, “What is the probability that there is a planet out there that we could communicate with that has intelligent life?” And the biggest uncertainty in that has nothing to do with astronomy. It has to do with the lifetime of a civilization. How long does it take it to destroy itself? So if you have intelligent thing for a thousand years, the chances we’ll have to communicate with another planet, on the timescale of billions of years, it becomes almost certainly not possible.
I saw recently that Stephen Hawking was saying we need to find a way to colonize other planets within 100 years.
Well … I mean, it’s going to be pretty hard to devastate the Earth to the point we can’t live on it. But if we’re ever going to get this thing solved, we’re going to need an international group that has a lot of authority. It’ll have to be like the Fed, but to manage carbon. That would mean we’d all have to give up a lot of our sovereignty, but I think that’s the only way it would happen. It couldn’t be the U.N., because the U.N. doesn’t have the power. They’d have to be able to penalize, they’d probably have to have an army, because cheating would be very, very lucrative.
It doesn’t seem as though that’s very likely.
I’d say it’s one chance in a thousand. I mean, we may get to that. Maybe China will get so powerful that it can start to dictate. That’s what we need. Our democracy is shot, I think. It just doesn’t work.
Climate is one of the clearest case studies of its dysfunction, I’d say.
Yeah. You know, I used to work for Steve Bannon.
In what context?
You’ve heard of Biosphere 2? Well, that was created by a true cult leader, John Allen, and a guy named Ed Bass — the son of a wealthy Texas oil man. Their idea was to put eight people in there, and they’d stay two years.
But in a small volume of air, you’ve got bacteria eating up the oxygen like mad, plants producing oxygen, and CO2 goes into the plants and comes out from the bacteria. CO2 went down and down and down. And when it got down to 19 percent from 21 percent, Allen had a friend of his get in touch with me to figure out why oxygen was going down but CO2 wasn’t going up.
Before the first two years were out, Bass’s financial guys finally did in the cult — the cult is spending all their money, they thought the cult were idiots. The sheriff swept in, like a military thing, because they didn’t want them to destroy anything, which worked — they got them all out without any damage being done. And then the property was without management, so they hired Steve Bannon, who was at the time running some company — you know, he’s done a lot of different stuff. He came and stayed there. The idea was to convert the biosphere to study the effects of CO2 on plants, and since I was the only scientist who was still involved who had any reputation at all, he appointed me science adviser.
How was that?
We got along well. When I saw his name first appear around Trump, I thought, it couldn’t be the same guy! And then I saw his picture! His brother Chris is still at Biosphere. I wrote an article once where I mentioned pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. I sent that via Chris Bannon to Steve —Chris promised me that Steve would get it. And I said, “Steve, you know, you may not do anything about this, but you ought to think about preparing for what might happen if you don’t.”
What happened?
I never heard back from him, obviously. His agenda is to destroy the planet, I think.
Generally speaking, what do you think this administration means for climate?
Doesn’t mean anything good. But, you know, what if we had signed the Paris accords? The U.S. still wasn’t going to keep its commitments, so as far as what we would do it wasn’t going to make much difference. You know, when we reached an agreement in Kyoto, that didn’t really change things significantly. Until carbon taxes really become common, we’re not going to do anything.
A fossil-fuel company could theoretically extend its business life by figuring out carbon capture or geo-engineering.
Why they’re not doing this is a big question. First they had to admit it’s a problem. Now they are admitting it’s a problem, but they’re playing the tobacco game. The longer they can sell their product, the more of their underground wealth can be used. They know they’re going to lose at some point, so they’re probably not going to build something that will last longer than 50 years.
You worked with Exxon for a while, right?
That was a curious thing. A guy who got his degree here with me ended up going way up high at Exxon. He had a corner office when they were on Sixth Avenue. And he asked me to write some stuff about CO2 as a consultant, and I did. I wrote a lot, because I wanted to make some money! What he did with that I have no idea.
Did you talk to him about whether it all weighed on his conscience?
Well, this is still pretty early — back in the early ’70s. But eventually he quit.
It’s interesting to think about in light of the victories won in the past — regulating the CFCs that caused the hole in the ozone, more recently the chemicals in air conditioners. But oil companies are so much more powerful.
They have the money to pay for all the best lawyers. I was surprised when Jim Hansen won his case in Oregon, do you know about that?
Yeah — it’s an amazing case. When I talked to him, he seemed hopeful that they could win at the Supreme Court.
I have a disagreement with Jim. His solution is to have a tax and then give all the money back to the public. He says if we do that, the incentives introduced by the tax into the market will make sure that everything will take care of itself. Bullshit. You have to use the money to solve the problem directly — retrieving the CO2. What he’s saying would help but it wouldn’t solve the problem.
Well, he showed me a paper which he’s trying to publish in which he emphasizes the importance of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Really? That’s a reversal. I like Jim, but I rarely talk to him because he’s so confident that he’s right. And it’s hard to talk to people like that when you’re talking about complicated problems. Plus, I know enough about the science he writes about that’s skewed, and that’s bad. It’s very hard to do what he’s doing, to be a scientist and an advocate without crossing over the line and making the problem look worse.
Sometimes it can be really hard to judge that, though, no? I mean, how confident can you be in particular models?
One of the more interesting things being done is just running a single model over and over again to see the divergent results. In these models there are dozens and dozens of assignable parameters, because you don’t really know the physics well enough to write equations. In one case in particular, they did something like 3,000 runs made with all possible combinations of parameters, putting them in a reasonable range — in other words, you don’t know for sure, but it could be this, it could be this. And what they found is that they got a spectrum of results that ranged from one degree to eleven degrees.
And it has skewed. The mean was about 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming. But it showed there was something like 15 percent probability that it’d be more than four degrees, just on these model runs. So these models have to make a lot of assumptions.
What’s a dramatic worst-case scenario, as you see it?
The worst scenario is the scenario we’ve been talking about for an hour —we’re warming the planet and we’re shifting the rain belt and we’re going to have to do something that we probably never dreamed we’d do, which is put SO2 into the atmosphere. I just think this immense warming will have huge repercussions in every way.
One thing we didn’t talk about was the methane bubbles in the ocean, and methane in the permafrost. How do you rate the risk of that?
It’s like ice. If we were to leave the CO2 in the air for a long time, we’re going to warm up the ocean over all these clathrates. Eventually they’re going to start to melt. There’s an interesting thing we call the PETM, you probably never even heard of that.
No, of course I have!
Well, one thing that appears to be the case is that, for something like the PETM, you need an initial burst of 2,000 gigatons or something, in a timescale of less than 5,000 years, and then you need a long tail that goes out tens of thousands of years. I’m not sure that is true, but if it is true then the analog pulse could be what we’re doing with fossil fuels and CO2, and if that sits there a long time, and starts to release methane …
Wouldn’t methane be more dramatic than carbon? It has such a dramatic short-term effect.
Methane is a better greenhouse gas but it doesn’t last very long. So it will add an increment, but it would never dominate. One scenario is, you could say, if we warm the Earth five or six or seven degrees, then we’ll start to release methane from clathrates, and that would reinforce what was happening and also extend its duration. And I think that’s one of the most important things that the PETM can help us with.
But the PETM didn’t make any extinctions — that’s interesting, it’s encouraging. But in the western United States something like 70 percent of the species disappeared during the PETM and then came back. Only two or three didn’t come back.
Weren’t there extinctions in the ocean?
Yeah. The deep ocean really got acidified. It was a severe event.
Which, of course, is something we’re going to do, too.
The interview has been condensed and edited.

This Is Not Normal: US experiences More Than 500 Tornadoes In 30 Days

Our not-too-distant future is filled with famines, political chaos, economic collapse, fierce resource competition, and heat that “cooks us.”

Knock knock.
Humans: "Who's there?"
Mother Nature: "Climate Change"
Humans: "Sorry, don't believe in it"
Mother Nature: "I Don't Care."

Is it time to be concerned about climate change? The future looks pretty dark from where we are now. The Earth is at 1.1 degrees C of [average] warming above the preindustrial baseline, which is the historical temperature conditions that we measure global warming against. And already at 1.1 degrees, we’re seeing a lot of really extreme climate events. 

The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before.

 You probably read in your textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, that accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead.

We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating.

Since 1998, there has been an average of 279 tornadoes during the month of May 2019. So the fact that we have had more than 500 over the last 30 days means that we are running way, way above normal "Over the last 30 days, there have been more than 500 tornadoes in the United States. That is not normal. In fact, Tuesday was the 12th day in a row when at least eight tornadoes were spawned, and that is a new all-time record. Community after community in the Midwest now looks like a “war zone”, and billions upon billions of dollars of damage has already been done.

None of this is “normal”, and prior to the month of May we had already witnessed the wettest 12 months in all of U.S. history. All of this wet weather has been absolutely disastrous for Midwest farmers, and so far in 2019 agricultural production is way, way below expectations. In the months ahead, we should all be prepared for much higher prices at the grocery store.

It is worse than you think. If your fears about global warming is dominated by sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what is possible within the lifetime of most humans alive today. And yet the swelling sea has so dominated the picture of global warming that they have occluded our perception of other threats much closer at hand. Rising oceans are very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.
The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. Two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. Now two degrees is our goal, per the Paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues serial reports, often called the “gold standard” of climate research; the most recent one projects us to hit four degrees of warming by the beginning of the next century, should we stay the present course. But that’s just a median projection. The upper end of the probability curve runs as high as eight degrees — and the authors still haven’t figured out how to deal with that permafrost melt. The IPCC reports also don’t fully account for the albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years. The last time the planet was even four degrees warmer the oceans were hundreds of feet higher.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

 Weather patterns are going absolutely crazy, and we have never seen a year quite like this in modern American history. So what is going to happen if weather patterns get even crazier and natural disasters just continue to become even more frequent and even more powerful? You may want to start thinking about that, because that is exactly what many people believe is going to happen."

Greenland and Antarctica are melting fast

Greenland and Antarctica are melting fast.

Geenland has long since been a major source of concern for scientists studying sea-level rise. But they used to think their biggest worries were the southeast and northwest regions, home to massive glaciers that crumble into icebergs when it gets too warm. The bergs drift out to sea and melt, adding water to the oceans. Southwest Greenland, on the other hand, doesn’t have many glaciers, so it doesn’t spawn many icebergs. But Bevis’s team found that during increasingly hot summers, growing rivers of meltwater have poured out of the southwest directly into the sea, accelerating ice loss. By 2012, Greenland was melting four times as fast as in 2003, according to the study, led by ice loss in the supposedly stable southwest.
Ninety-seven percent of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melted in 2012, a level of ice melt the island hasn’t seen since 1889, according to Kaitlin Keegan, a Dartmouth research associate who studies arctic ice. In a typical year, she says, summer temperatures max out at -14°C. But Keegan recalls the surreal feeling of doing fieldwork on the center of Greenland’s ice sheet in the summer of 2012, as temperatures climbed above freezing. “When the wind was still, you could go outside in a t-shirt,” she says.
It’s not clear exactly how much meltwater from unexpected areas like southwest Greenland should alter our predictions for sea level rise. But researchers aren’t optimistic. “Sea-level rise is an area of climate-change research where there are a lot of unknowns,” Keegan says. “But if you take ice mass off of Greenland and put it directly into the sea at a faster rate than anyone is modeling, that would imply that sea-level projections are maybe a little conservative.”
“This is just another indication that these changes aren’t projections into the future or things to worry about 20 years from now,” says Eric Klein, a geological science professor at the University of Alaska, who wasn’t involved with the study. “These changes aren’t distant—not in terms of time or space. If we lose ice mass from Greenland or Antarctica and seas rise, that will be felt globally, not just in the Arctic or the Antarctic.”

Texas leads the way with the Wind.

We have been told how is impacting the Southwest with drier air, more intense droughts, longer heatwaves and heavier downpours. But Texas hasn't just been on the receiving end of climate change—it's become a national leader in clean energy solutions, thanks to an abundance of wind energy. Most people don't realize how much of a powerhouse Texas is when it comes to wind energy. Between its wide open spaces and the Great Plains, Texas is perfectly situated for steady, sustained winds that then can be used for energy production.

1. Texas Holds the Record for All-Time Wind Energy Production
On February 18, Texas surpassed its own all-time record for wind energy production—which was also the national record—providing 45 percent of the state's total electricity needs on multiple occasions throughout the evening. At one point, wind energy production provided more than 14 gigawatts of power, or enough electricity to power roughly 234 million conventional light bulbs. What's more incredible about Texas' new record is that wind power production was fairly constant throughout the day, allowing it to consistently meet around 40 percent of demand on the Texas grid.

2. The Benefits of Wind are Estimated at $3.3 Billion Annually
From savings relating to health and pollution to competition against other energy sources, the financial benefits from wind energy are not insignificant. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the $3.3 billion in annual savings 

3. Texas was the First U.S. State to Reach 10,000 Megawatts of Wind Power Generating Capacity
Not only has wind energy grown much faster in Texas than anywhere else in the U.S., it was also the first state to reach 10,000 megawatts of installed generating capacity in 2011. The majority of this wind energy was generated in western Texas and while there was demand for this power across the state, wind energy growth was so rapid that the infrastructure to transmit it across the state was unable to keep pace. So to ensure wind energy reached the more populated eastern areas of Texas, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) studied the areas with the most wind energy projects and potential and established a series of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZs). PUCT then used these zones to plan a highly efficient series of more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to reliably transfer renewable energy generated in western Texas to help power eastern markets. By December 2013, the project was largely completed, reducing the need to limit the amount of wind energy entering the grid. The bottom line: clean energy is now accessible to the entire state.

We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman

We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman.

 Hillman is an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute.
"It’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There is no way to reverse the process of the polar ice caps melting."

“We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

Scientists and climate experts are sounding alarms over atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) that just surpassed a "troubling" threshold for the first time in human history.

"The reading from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii finds that concentrations of the climate-warming gas averaged above 410 parts per million [ppm] throughout April," Chris Mooney wrote for the Washington Post. " The first time readings crossed 410 at all occurred on April 18, 2017, or just about a year ago."While the planet's concentrations of carbon dioxide fluctuated between roughly 200 ppm and 280 ppm for hundreds of thousands of centuries, as the NASA chart below details, CO2 concentrations have soared since the start of the industrial revolution—and, without urgent global efforts to significantly alter human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions, show no sign of letting up.

The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100. Recent revised climate modelling suggested a best estimate of 2.8C but scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.

Instead, says Hillman, the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

Hillman doubts that human ingenuity can find a fix and says there is no evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried. But if we adapt to a future with less – focusing on Hillman’s love and music – it might be good for us. “And who is ‘we’?” asks Hillman with a typically impish smile. “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”

Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.”

Can civilization prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

The UK government’s official climate change advisers warned ministers on Thursday that their refusal to ensure new buildings are designed to deal with high temperatures could see annual heat-related deaths more than triple to 7,000 by 2040. Earlier in June, research showed that a third of the world’s population already faces deadly heatwaves as a result of climate change.

“Hot months are no longer rare in our current climate,” said Robert Vautard, at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France. “By the middle of the century, this kind of extreme heat in June will become the norm in western Europe unless we take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

There is a slight bit of good news. Global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide remained static in 2016, a welcome sign that the world is making at least some progress in the battle against global warming by halting the long-term rising trend.

All of the world’s biggest emitting nations, except India, saw falling or static carbon emissions due to less coal burning and increasing renewable energy, according to data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA). However other mainly developing nations, including Indonesia, still have rising rates of CO2 emissions.

Stalled global emissions still means huge amounts of CO2 are being added to the atmosphere every year – more than 35bn tonnes in 2016 – driving up global temperatures and increasing the risk of damaging, extreme weather. Furthermore, other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mainly methane from cattle and leaks from oil and gas exploration, are still rising and went up by 1% in 2016.

Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is Unstable.

Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is Unstable and would push sea levels up as much as 3 feet if it falls into the ocean.
Thwaites glacier melting would push sea levels up as much as 3 feet! It's the size of Florida.

Scientists from the United States and United Kingdom announced a massive five-year study aimed at finding out how stable a key Antarctic glacier really is.

They'll be focused on the Thwaites Glacier, located on the western side of Antarctica. It has lost a huge amount of ice recently – enough to contribute about 4 percent of overall sea level rise – and a complete collapse of the Florida-sized glacier would push sea levels up as much as 3 feet, according to Public Radio International.

The new study will be an attempt to learn more about the glacier in hopes that it'll lead to better modeling and a more exact projection of what might happen in the future.

"Really, the whole program is about understanding that extra uncertainty attached to sea level rise and doing what we can to remove it, allowing people to protect their coastal environments and to prepare property to protect their populations," David Vaughan, the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey, told reporters on Monday.

One reason why we know relatively little about Thwaites is because few researchers have made expeditions to West Antarctica to study it since the first trip in the 1950s, PRI also said. The glacier is some 1,000 miles from the closest research station, and weather conditions are not friendly to those who venture into the region, the report added.

But this time, eight research teams will join together for the project, and they plan to study everything from the bedrock under the ice sheet to the climate above it in hopes of finding out as much as they can about the glacier, PRI added. They want to know the history of this ice sheet so they can understand how it has behaved in the past, and if there's any hope to save it during the rapid retreat period currently taking place.

"There is still a question in my view as to whether Thwaites has actually entered an irreversible retreat," Vaughan told BBC.com. "It assumes the melt rates we see today continue into the future and that's not guaranteed. Thwaites is clearly on the verge of an irreversible retreat, but to be sure we need 10 years more data."

About 100 scientists will be sent to West Antarctica as part of the study, according to BBC.com. It'll be the biggest collaboration between U.S. and U.K. scientists in Antarctica in at least 70 years, the report added.