Melting Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ Could Raise Sea Level by 10 Feet, Scientists Say

Melting Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ Could Raise Sea Level by 10 Feet, Scientists Say

Melting Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ Could Raise Sea Level by 10 Feet, Scientists Say

One of Antarctica’s most important glaciers is held “by the nails” as warming temperatures around the world threaten to cause further deterioration, which could then destabilize glaciers across the region.

The Thwaites Glacier, located in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, is among the fastest-evolving glaciers in the region, according to scientists. Together with Pine Island, also located in the Amundsen Sea, the two structures are responsible for the largest contribution to sea level rise outside Antarctica.

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Now, scientists are discovering that Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”, is melting faster than previously thought as deep, warm, dense water supplies heat to the current cavity of the ice shelf and melts its ice shelves from below, according to a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience.

Thwaites, which is about the size of Florida, is known to be in rapid retreat. But researchers from the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science and the British Antarctic Survey have mapped a critical area of ​​the seafloor in front of the glacier that could contribute to faster melting in the future.

PHOTO: Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.  (James Youngel / NASA)

PHOTO: Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. (James Youngel / NASA)

Satellite images released in 2020 of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, which lie next to each other, showed highly crevassed areas and open fractures, both signs that the shear zones on both glaciers, where the ice shelf is thin. , had weakened structurally over the last decade.

But scientists have now found that the retreat from the root zone of the Thwaites Glacier is closer to more than 2.1 kilometers per year, twice the speed observed by satellite images in the fastest fouling part between 2011 and 2011. 2019, according to the study.

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Researchers documented more than 160 parallel ridges that were created as a result of the glacier’s leading edge retreating and swinging up and down with daily tides. Additionally, the scientists analyzed the rib-like formations submerged about half a mile below the ocean, determining that each new rib would likely form in just one day.

Major birthing events, when a large chunk breaks, occurred in Thwaites in October 2018 and February 2020, when an unprecedented retreat of the ice shelf occurred. The feedback process, likely triggered by further damage to the ice shelf, resulted in the ice shelves being preconditioned for further disintegration and major birthing events.

PHOTO: An aerial view of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, Jan.30, 2019 (Jeremy Harbeck / OIB / NASA)

PHOTO: An aerial view of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, Jan.30, 2019 (Jeremy Harbeck / OIB / NASA)

This makes the Thwaites and Pine Island ice shelves more sensitive to extreme climate changes in the ocean, atmosphere, and sea ice. If Thwaites and Pine Island were to destabilize, many of the nearby areas would also fall apart, causing widespread collapse, the scientists said. Thwaites alone could cause sea levels to rise by about 10 feet, the scientists said.

In December, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder predicted Thwaites will only last a few years before it collapses.

“Thwaites is really holding on to the nails today and we should expect to see big changes on small time scales in the future, even from one year to the next, once the glacier retreats past a shallow ridge in its bed,” he said. said Robert Larter, a British Antarctic Survey marine geophysicist and co-author of the study, in a statement.

MORE: Satellite images show Antarctic glacier deterioration that could lead to sea level rise

Researchers from the US, UK and Sweden used a state-of-the-art robotic vehicle loaded with imaging sensors, dubbed “Ran”, to collect images and support geophysical data, described by Anna Wahlin, a physics oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, as “a pioneering study of the ocean floor”.

“The images collected by Ran give us vital information about the processes occurring today at the critical intersection of the glacier and the ocean,” Wahlin said.

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