The Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica, specifically known as the Thwaites Glacier, is currently melting in ways that scientists were not expecting, which could potentially lead to its rapid collapse, and an acceleration of global sea levels rising.
A new study has revealed that the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, nicknamed the Doomsday Glacier, is currently melting in unexpected ways, which could lead to its potential rapid collapse and a sudden rise in global sea levels.
Two teams of researchers from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration used an underwater robot that drilled deep holes into the glacier to study its melting patterns; the glacier is roughly the size of the state of Florida.
The researchers discovered that while the overall melting of the ice is occurring slower than they expected, there is an increase in the rate in which certain cracks and crevasses are melting in vulnerable areas of the glacier, which could cause it to overall melt more rapidly.
Peter Davis, a research team member and Antarctic Survey oceanographer, recently made a statement about this staggering discovery.
“What we have found is that despite small amounts of melting, there is still rapid glacier retreat, so it seems that it doesn’t take a lot to push the glacier out of balance.”
“Our results are a surprise but the glacier is still in trouble. If an ice shelf and a glacier is in balance, the ice coming off the continent will match the amount of ice being lost through melting and iceberg calving,” Davis continued.
The Thwaites Glacier is located in West Antarctica and is about 74,000 square miles. A major part of the glacier extends into the ocean, holding it back from the rest of it that lies on bedrock, which prevents it from moving into the sea.
Due to its partial location in the water, the glacier overall is very susceptible to climate and ocean temperature changes which could accelerate the rate in which the ice melts. If the glacier were to fully collapse, it would cause seawater levels to rise by about 2 feet; which could lead to the destabilization of other glaciers, and lead to even further sea levels rising.
Cornell University researcher Britney Schmid recently spoke about the new ways in which they’re able to keep tabs on the glacier.
“These new ways of observing the glacier allow us to understand that it’s not just how much melting is happening, but how and where it is happening that matters in these very warm parts of Antarctica.”
Icefin is the name of the underwater robot used to investigate and collect data on the Doomsday Glacier. Space.com recently reported on the use of Icefin and the reliance scientists now have on monitoring the glacier using it.
“Icefin is particularly useful for investigating the grounding zone of Thwaites, the point at which the glacier touches the ocean floor, which has previously been almost impossible to study.
The grounding zone of this glacier has retreated by 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) since the 1990s, making Thwaites one of the fastest-changing glaciers in Antarctica. The factors causing this retreat are, however, poorly understood.”
The melting of Thwaites cracks and crevasses makes it easier for water to funnel through them, which can cause these crevasses to widen and cause large rifts in the ice shelf.
With a combined layer of cold water below the bottom of the ice shelf and the warming ocean surrounding the glacier, the ice could begin to deteriorate rapidly.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.