Doomsday Glacier In Antarctica Melting Rapidly, Global Sea Levels Likely To Rise

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.


Doomsday Glacier Could Melt Rapidly With’ Just a Small Kick,’ Scientists Say

A glacier the size of Florida could melt at a faster rate than previously anticipated. The Thwaites Glacier, located in Antarctica, has been dubbed the “doomsday” glacier because of its potential to markedly raise already rising sea levels.

The glacier could raise sea levels by 2 feet or more if melted. Its precarious location in contact with warm ocean currents makes it even more susceptible to collapse.

Scientists made the discovery after a team of researchers from the U.S., Sweden, and the United Kingdom conducted a study to determine the fastest rates the glacier has retreated in the past. Dr. Robert Larter, one of the study’s co-authors, noted the significance of the findings in the study’s release.

“Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future — even from one year to the next — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed.”

The glacier is the widest on earth, sitting at 80 miles wide. It protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, acting as a buffer between the sheet and warming waters. The entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise sea levels by up to 16 feet.

For the study, the researchers sent an autonomous vehicle to the glacier’s former grounding zone. The grounding zone of a glacier is where an attached ice shelf transitions into a floating ice shelf. The autonomous vehicle, named Rán, was equipped with two geophysical sensors and used to produce 3D scans of the underwater surface.

These scans allowed scientists to map the glacier’s movements throughout the last 200 years. Previously, scientists could only see its movements within the past 30 years because of satellite imagery limitations.

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The study aimed to learn about the glacier’s past retreat rates to more accurately predict the rate at which it may continue to retreat. The scientists found that the glacier is capable of retreating more rapidly than previously thought. Sometime in the last 200 years, it had retreated at twice the rate it did between 2011 and 2019.

The leader of the mission, University of Florida’s Dr. Alastair Graham, warned that while the slower rate is seemingly positive, the findings confirm that the glacier is highly perceptible to changes in climate. Since the rate of the glacier retreating has pulsated, it is likely to happen again.

“Our results suggest that sustained pulses of rapid retreat have occurred at Thwaites Glacier in the past two centuries. Similar rapid retreat pulses are likely to occur in the near future when the grounding zone migrates back off stabilizing high points on the sea floor.”

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Dr. Graham said that once the glacier retreats beyond a certain point, it has the potential to shrink at an even greater rate. In fact, “just a small kick to Thwaites could lead to a big response,” Dr. Graham predicted.

These findings rebut the hope once held by scientists that the Antarctic ice sheets would be more resilient to climate change.

Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Ship, Endurance, Discovered After 107 Years

On Wednesday, the team of maritime archaeologists and technicians that comprise the Endurance22 Expedition announced the finding of the Endurance, a 144-foot wooden ship lost in 1915 during an Antarctic expedition led by British explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton.

Shackleton began the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914, leading 27 men through the South Pole across the Weddell Sea in what would be the first crossing of Antarctica. Unfortunately, the Endurance suffered the cruel fate of becoming trapped in the ice, forcing those on board to attempt to wait out the stoppage.

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After spending 10 months living on the Endurance, the crew were forced to abandoned ship in January 1915 due to pressure from the ice slowly crushing it. The vessel would finally sink into the ocean towards the end of that year while Shackleton and his crew — none of which perished through the ordeal — would eventually be rescued in 1916 after surviving on Elephant Island.

Now, the Endurance is seeing the light of the day once again. It was found at a depth of 3,008 metres (or nearly 10,000 feet) in the Weddell Sea, which the team notes is four miles South of its position originally recorded by the Endurance’s captain, Frank Worsley. The discovery comes a few weeks after Endurance22 began the search in late February.

According to the search expedition’s Director of Exploration Mensun Bound, the Endurance is in fantastic shape despite its long disappearance and the conditions endured, while he called the finding a “milestone in polar history.”

“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.  You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.”

Speaking to NBC News, British historian Dan Snow surmised that the Endurance’s stellar appearance and preservation is thanks to the temperatures in the Weddell Sea, which can range around 0° to -0.8° Celsius (32° to 33° Fahrenheit). Because of this, there were “no wood-eating microbes and microorganisms” that could further damage the ship.

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“Shackleton, we like to think, would have been proud of us,” Bound expressed in a blog post while also sharing his hope that the discovery will engage with younger generations and inspire them with with the “pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed Endurance to Antarctica.”

The ship’s status is a satisfying reward for Endurance22’s efforts, as Dr. John Shears — the expedition’s leader — stated that it was the “world’s most challenging shipwreck search.” The team used state-of-the-art technology which included the SAAB Sabertooth underwater vehicles, which combines attributes of remote operating vehicles (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).

Ice Sheets

Melting Ice Sheets Will Cause Global Sea Levels To Rise Over 15 Inches By 2100

A new study performed by an international team of more than 60 ice, ocean, and atmospheric scientists has estimated that if humans keep emitting greenhouse gases unnecessarily at the rate that we’re going now, global sea levels will rise more than 15 inches by 2100.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere every day, and they impact climate change by causing global temperatures to increase, leading to a myriad of other detrimental environmental events. One of these events includes the melting of ice sheets from some of the worlds largest bodies of ice.

As things continue to heat up, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are particularly worrying scientists, as they’re both located at opposite poles of the world and their simultaneous melting is causing the entire planet to struggle. Sophie Nowichi was the project leader of this study and recently released a statement about how the major uncertainty regarding ice sheets specifically has made it hard to measure just how severe things can get in terms of global warming.

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“One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to how much sea levels will rise in the future is how ice sheets will contribute, and how much the ice sheets contribute is really dependent on what the climate will do.”

This study is a part of a larger initiative known as the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project (ISMIP6). This initiative is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The team working for ISMIP6 has been measuring how sea levels will rise between 2015 and 2100, specifically in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that higher emissions of these greenhouse gases extending throughout time will cause Greenland to contribute about 3.5 inches to the global rise in sea levels, while levels from Antarctica are a little harder to calculate based on the massive size. Antarctica has bodies of ice known as “shelves” which scientists are predicting will break down over time and cause an even more devastating increase to sea levels. 

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Right now it’s predicted that at the current rate of emissions Antarctica can contribute around 12 inches to sea levels in the future. Helene Seroussi is an ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who worked on the study and recently released a statement emphasizing that this particular study is only providing predictions for ice loss between 2015 and 2100, and doesn’t take into account the already significant amount of loss that’s already occurred. 

“The strength of ISMIP6 was to bring together most of the ice sheet modeling groups around the world, and then connect with other communities of ocean and atmospheric modelers as well, to better understand what could happen to the ice sheets.”

According to Seroussi and other researchers working on the study it took over 6 years of workshops, conferences, and data exchange between scientists from around the world to compile these predictions and work together on ways in which humans can potentially correct their mistakes in regard to climate change. 

The specific report from the ISMIP6 will help the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with their special report regarding melting ice and global sea levels/climate change in general. This report is projected to compile data from a multitude of major studies and will be released in 2022.


Scientists Discover First Methane Leak In Antarctica’s Seabed

Scientists recently discovered an active leak of methane gas coming from the sea floor of Antarctica. These findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society scientific journal, and are worrying many researchers who know that methane gas is likely going to accelerate the process of global heating even more so than it already is.

Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that leads to an acceleration in global warming; much like carbon dioxide does. In normal conditions, when the gas is present under layers of ice, microorganisms living within the ice consume it and slow down the process of it being leaked back into the atmosphere. However, the damage of climate change that the planet has already endured has hindered the effectiveness of this process in Antarctica. 

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The methane leak referred to in the findings initially appeared back in 2011 and, at the time, the microorganisms present took five years to appear and consume a majority of the gas. Now, researchers found that gas is still leaking into the atmosphere despite the presence of these microorganisms. Dr. Andrew Thurer, the oceanographer who led the study, is concerned about these findings, and claims it could take up to a decade for the gas to be consumed, and by then it may be too late. 

“Vast amounts of methane are stored under sea ice. Antarctica is estimated to contain as much as a quarter of Earth’s marine methane.” 

The impact of excessive methane leaks in the planet’s atmosphere is extremely damaging. As global temperatures continue to increase, ice caps/glaciers will continue to melt, and sea levels will rise. That lack of ice is what leads to methane leaks, as there’s less protective layers to contain the methane and house the microorganisms necessary to consume the gas.  

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NASA warned the world in 2018 that the thawing of ice in the Arctic would lead to gas leaks that will cause the planet’s climate to rise at an even more alarming rate than what it’s currently at. Scientists have also long considered the release of methane specifically from ice as a “tipping point in climate change,” which essentially means the effects of global warming have reached an irreversible level. 

Until now, there have been no active methane leaks in Antarctica, and while scientists did confirm that this particular leak came from an unknown source likely unrelated to climate change, its presence it’s still worrisome. 

The only silver lining, according to Thurer, is that these findings can work to deepen climate scientists’ understanding of the way that methane is “consumed and released in Antarctica, something which very little was known before.” Gaining this understanding in Antarctica specifically is key, especially considering the presence of methane could be extremely detrimental to the future of Earth’s climate. 

“Our results suggest that the accuracy of future global climate models may be improved by considering the time it will take for microbial communities to respond to novel methane input.” 

While research on microorganisms absorbing methane gas is a timely process, gaining these insights can help researchers understand how these organisms work, and could potentially lead to the invention of some sort of man-made version of the organisms which can better aide the process of absorbing methane in melting ice layers in the Arctic/Antarctica.

Glacier in Antarctica

Scientists Worried About Rapid Melting Of ‘Doomsday’ Glacier In Antarctica

Climate scientists have always regarded Thwaites glacier in Antarctica as a key factor in terms of climate change and global sea-level risings. The glacier itself is seen as one of the most vulnerable to be impacted by climate change, as its collapse would raise global sea levels by more than half a meter on its own. Its melting would also cause a chain reaction for other major bodies of water in Antarctica, potentially causing sea levels to rise by three meters!

Coastal cities across the globe would be severely impacted if this were to occur, and it’s one of the reasons the glacier has the nickname “Doomsday glacier.” This year, scientists noticed there was warm water near an integral part of the glacier that has never been there before. This warm water has already caused parts of the glacier to deteriorate.

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Thwaites glacier is 76,000 square miles, about the size of England. Ice has already melted from the glacier into the Amundsen Sea and caused 4% of global sea-levels to rise. As the world continues to warm, scientists are worried for the future of this glacier and its impact on the rest of the planet. Paul Cutler is a program director for Antarctic glaciology at America’s National Science Foundation, and he recently spoke with the media about the severity of this glacier melting.  

“The big question is how quickly it becomes unstable. It seems to be teetering at the edge. It is a keystone for the other glaciers around it in Antarctica if you remove it, other ice will start draining into the ocean.” 

Antarctica contains 90% of the world’s ice, most of which remains out of the water and on the continent’s land. The average thickness of ice in Antarctica is 1.6 miles deep, but it can reach depths of up to three miles. 

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The current sea level on Earth is almost 8 inches above what it was before the industrial revolution. The main cause in this rise is an increase in global sea temperatures brought on by intense sun exposure. The sun exposure is brought on due to a depletion in the Earth’s ozone layer, which is meant to protect all of us from intense UV radiation. For nearly 2,000 years before the industrial revolution, global sea levels remained almost completely static. 

Burning fossil fuels has only increased as society has become more modernized, and that burning has only further depleted the ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere act as heat traps for the sun. These warmer temperatures obviously cause major ice sheets and glaciers to melt, as they’re not only experiencing a rise in sea temperatures, but air temperatures as well. 

The annual rate in which our global sea-levels rise has doubled since 1990. As time has gone on, the rate at which these glaciers melt has only become more unpredictable, making it difficult for scientists to understand how to better preserve them. However, this more recent melting of Thwaites was specifically brought on by a massive heat wave in the Arctic; which is on the other side of the planet. 

Both the Antarctic and Arctic regions should be our number one priority, as they’re the coldest locations in the world, however, they’re both warming at rates faster than the rest of the world as well. Global warming has already caused such massive natural destruction within the past year alone, it’s time that our world leaders understand we’re currently battling a whole other pandemic in terms of our planets temperatures.


Colin O’Brady Reflects On His Solo-Journey To Antarctica During Time Of Isolation

During his time in the below freezing environment, O’brady took on the elements and weeks of isolation as he embarked on a solo trek across the Earth’s southernmost continent.

Australia Bushfire

Rising Temperatures In Antarctica’s Atmosphere Is Now Affecting Australia

When it comes to our world’s natural environment, everything is connected. Whether it be fires in Africa helping put out fires in the Amazon rain forest, or lab grown coral in Florida that will help rebuild the Great Barrier Reef, different pieces of the Earth and its inhabitants can help or hinder other parts on the complete opposite side of the world. Antarctica and Australia are two parts of the world that couldn’t be more opposite, and yet, they also couldn’t be more connected; now more than ever. According to Science Alert Magazine (SA), record high temperatures in Antarctica, that will be occurring throughout the next few weeks, are predicted to bring abnormally high spring temperatures and abnormally low amounts of rainfall to New South Wales and southern Queensland in Australia. 

Temperatures in the Southern Pole areas of the world began warming the last week of August, specifically in the stratosphere above the Pole (SA). The stratosphere is the second layer, out of five, in the Earth’s atmosphere. It begins about 32 miles above the Earth’s surface, and contains an abundance of ozone. Ozone is an oxygen like molecule that absorbs UV radiation from the sun and uses that to heat this layer of the Earth, along with the level below it, according to soft schools online definition. This quick heating was reported as a “sudden stratospheric warming” meaning that as the weeks progress temperatures will continue to warm and intensify and eventually extend down onto the actual surface of the Earth and move to affect areas of Eastern Australia (SA). 

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“Every winter, westerly winds – often up to 120 miles per hour – develop in the stratosphere high above the South Pole and circle the polar region. The winds develop as a result of the difference in temperature over the pole and the Southern Ocean. As the sun shifts southward during spring, the polar region starts to warm. Waves of air from the lower atmosphere warm the stratosphere above the South Pole, and weaken or “mix” the high-speed westerly winds. Very rarely, if the waves are strong enough they can rapidly break down the polar vortex, actually reversing the direction of the winds so they become easterly. This is the technical definition of ‘sudden stratospheric warming’,” according to Harry Hendon of the Bureau of Meteorology.

So, more simply put, the warmer the polar regions become, the stronger the winds in the stratosphere can become, so much so that they actually can reverse their normal western direction to head East, and towards Australia. These warm and intense winds in the stratosphere above Australia is what will cause an abnormally warm spring season, and a lack of rainfall. 

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Bush-fire’s In Australia

This can be detrimental for both Australia and Antarctica. In Australia higher temperatures and reduced rainfall means there’s a much higher risk for wildfires or bush-fires, which are much more common in Australia. In fact, this week parts of Australia including New South Wales and Sydney have declared a seven day state of emergency in response to a catastrophic fire warning, according to CNN. Currently 70 large bush-fires are occurring in New South Wales alone, Australian authorities haven’t witnessed this much damage and increased safety risk since the creation of Sydney’s updated fire regulation system in 2009. 

Additionally, an increase in heated wind in the stratosphere can lead to a depletion of ozone, creating more holes in our Earth’s ozone layer, which means less protection from harmful UV radiation being absorbed from the sun. We need these protective layers to keep Antarctica cold, sea levels low, Australia cool and without fires. The process of Antarctic winds affecting Australia and other areas of the world is not surprising, but it is threatening. This is just one piece of the larger puzzle that is climate change. If the world’s powers don’t start taking more immediate action in response to cataclysmic natural events such as this, some bush-fires in Australia will be the least of our worries.