The vast Thwaites Glacier in Western Antarctica is also known as the “Doomsday Glacier” because it could cause a devastating rise in the global level sea level.
It is now melting faster than expected due to unforeseen factors.
Glacier Could Become Responsible for 10 Feet Global Sea Level Rise
The Thwaites Glacier is about the size of the state of Florida and held where it is by part of the frozen continent’s ice shelf, which protrudes over the Southern Ocean. The ice shelf practically protects the planet from the sea level rise that the glacier’s potential melting would cause.
Even so, the Doomsday Glacier already accounts for about 4% of the sea level rise every year by shedding gigantic amounts of ice into the water.
The fastest melting occurs when the giant glacier meets the seafloor. This point of contact has now retreated almost nine miles compared with the early 1990s, thus exposing more and more of the ice to warmer ocean water.
If the Thwaites Glacier collapses completely, that could raise sea levels worldwide by over two feet, which would, in turn, cause catastrophic effects on coastal communities everywhere.
To top it all off, the Doomsday Glacier is also serving as a “dam” to more of West Antarctica’s ice.
Scientific estimates show the additional ice collapse and melting its disappearance would unleash could raise global sea levels by 10 feet, a practically apocalyptic scenario for much of humanity.
The melting of the Thwaites Glacier was thought to take hundreds or even thousands of years. The latest research shows the process could be accelerated tremendously by the faster disintegration of the ice shelf that’s holding it.
Thus, two new studies published on Wednesday in the journal Nature have now disclosed there are “staircase formations” and deep cracks inside the ice, which are melting much more quickly than anticipated, CNN reported.
The scientists point out the accelerating climate change and the warming of the world’s oceans are leading to rapid changes in the Doomsday Glacier.
Scientists say a Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica the size of Florida is weakening due to warmer water entering its weak spots.
Breakup of the Thwaites Glacier would raise sea levels 1.6 feet and destabilize other glaciers. Researchers say its main trunk looks like "sugar cubes." pic.twitter.com/qP1GdHBFEM
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 16, 2023
“Despite small amounts of melting there is still rapid glacier retreat – so it seems it doesn’t take a lot to push the glacier out of balance.”
Dr Peter Davis gives a rapid rundown of what the new #ThwaitesGlacier science means.
— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 16, 2023
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 16, 2023
It’s Melting Both Up and Out
The new research was carried out by US and UK scholars from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration who visited the glacier at the end of 2019. The scientific team bored a 2,000 feet (600 meters) hole into the ice and used it to take measurements from deep inside the glacier.
For the first time, their instruments included the Icefin, a torpedo-like robot, which gave them access to previously inaccessible parts.
Even though the team discovered the melting rate under much of the ice shelf’s flat section was not as high as expected, at 2-5.4 meters per year, it also found the Doomsday Glacier is still retreating rapidly.
This means it could still be “pushed out of balance very quickly, according to British Antarctic Survey oceanographer Peter Davis.
What is even worse, however, is the scientists’ second major discovery about Thwaites, namely, that its underwater landscape consists of previously unknown complex structures and they are melting quite fast.
The structures in question include “strange staircaselike terraces” and big cracks going through the ice shelf. With warm salty water infiltrating those crevasses, the potential to bring down the entire glacier is now understood to be much greater.
According to Cornell University Prof. Britney Schmidt, one of the lead authors of the research, the Doomsday Glacier is “melting out” in addition to “melting up” and the consequences could be catastrophic.
Antarctica's vast Thwaites glacier may be more sensitive to sea warmth increases than once thought, according to an Antarctic study
Roughly the size of Britain, this glacier's susceptibility to climate change is a major concern to scientists ⬇️
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 15, 2023
This article appeared in The State Today and has been published here with permission.
New paper on Thwaites (Doomsday Glacier) finds melting rates under the base of the ice shelf are lower than models would suggest due to stratification, yet the grounding line is retreating fast anyway. Thus you don't need rapid base melting for retreat… 1/ pic.twitter.com/Z9MM2m4TnR
— Jeff Berardelli (@WeatherProf) February 16, 2023