Posts

glacier

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.

glacier

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.”

Embed from Getty Images

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.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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. 

Embed from Getty Images

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.