‘Doomsday glacier’ is melting more quickly than previously thought, research shows.
According to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, a glacier in Antarctica the size of Florida that might significantly increase global sea levels is melting more quickly than anticipated.
Thwaites Glacier in western Antarctica, also known as the “doomsday glacier” because of the enormous impact its collapse due to higher temperatures would have, was studied historically by a team of researchers from around the world. They discovered “exceptionally fast rates of previous retreat,” including a time during the last 200 years when the glacier retreated by 1.3 kilometres annually. This is twice as quickly as the rate of retreat discovered in the 2010s.
Robert Larter, a co-author of the study from the British Antarctic Survey, said in a news release that went along with the study’s publication, “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small time scales in the future — even from one year to the next.”
The experts involved in the study believe that melting might have enormous consequences. Alastair Graham, a marine geologist at the University of South Florida and a co-author of the paper, remarked that Thwaites could not be removed while maintaining the integrity of the remainder of Antarctica.
Despite being one of the largest on Earth, the Thwaites Glacier is only a minor portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which, according to NASA, has enough ice to raise sea level by up to 16 feet if it were to melt.
Thwaites is particularly vulnerable to melting as a result of rising waters since it is grounded in the ocean floor rather than on land. In 2020, researchers discovered that Thwaites’ lower reaches were melting due to warm water. Previous research has revealed that the seas absorb up to 90% of the warmth brought on by greenhouse gas emissions and that this warming is occurring more quickly than first believed.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the melting of Thwaites already contributes around 4% of the yearly sea level increase, which is presently between 0.12 and 0.14 inches per year. In locations that would be submerged by a rise in sea level of more than three feet, more than 40% of the world’s population reside within 60 miles of the coast.
This is not the first evidence that the stability of Thwaites may be in jeopardy as a result of rising global temperatures. An ice shelf in the eastern part of the glacier is visible to be cracking in satellite photographs from late last year.
Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the coordinator of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, told reporters at the time that “things are developing pretty rapidly here.” It’s intimidating.
The study’s authors cautioned that the ice shelf might separate from the ocean floor, which might result in the collapse of an ice cliff and further melting. Thwaites would see significant retreat as a result, according to Anna Crawford, a glaciologist at the University of St. Andrews, at the time the report was published.
According to Graham, his team is unable to forecast with certainty if the Thwaites Glacier would completely melt, but reducing emissions will be essential to lowering the danger.
In particular, he remarked, if we can stop the ocean from warming, “Right now, we can do something about it.”