The “doomsday glacier” hung “by the nails,” say scientists

The “doomsday glacier” hung “by the nails,” say scientists

The “doomsday glacier” hung “by the nails,” say scientists

The loss of a glacier the size of Florida Antarctica could wreak havoc on the world as scientists expect it would raise global sea level by up to 10 feet. It is already melting at a fast pace, and scientists say its collapse could only increase rapidly over the next few years.

Thwaites Glacier is the widest on Earth with a width of approximately 80 miles. But as the planet continues to warm, its ice, like much of the sea ice around the Earth’s poles, is melting. The rapidly changing state of the glacier has alarmed scientists for years due to the “chilling” global implications of adding so much additional water to Earth’s oceans, hence the nickname “doomsday glacier”.

Thwaites Offshore Research (THOR) scientists Alastair Graham (right) and Robert Larter (left) gaze in admiration at the crumbling ice face of the Thwaites Glacier rim, from the bridge of the R / V Nathaniel B. Palmer bridge.  / Credit: Frank Nitsche / University of South Florida

Thwaites Offshore Research (THOR) scientists Alastair Graham (right) and Robert Larter (left) gaze in amazement at the crumbling ice face of the Thwaites Glacier rim, from the bridge of the R / V Nathaniel B. Palmer . / Credit: Frank Nitsche / University of South Florida

To better predict what will happen to the glacier and how soon its disappearance may occur, the researchers took a closer look at the rooting zone, where the glacier’s ice passes from its crutch on the sea floor to being a floating platform. This “critical area” in front of the glacier provided historical data on the glacier’s past retreat rates and, according to the University of South Florida, whose marine geophysicist Alastair Graham led the study, “provides a kind of crystal ball.” in the Thwaites’ future.

The study results were published Monday in Nature Geoscience.

By observing 160 parallel ridges the glacier created as it retreated and moved along the ocean floor, the scientists found that the recently monitored glacier’s retreat rate is slower than it has been in the past. Over the course of 5.5 months, at some point in the past 200 years, scientists found that the glacier retreated at a rate of more than 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) per year, double the distance. in which he retired from 1996 to 2009 and three times the speed from 2011 to 2017.

And while this may seem like a positive sign, it’s actually a sign that things may soon speed up. “Similar rapid withdrawal pulses are likely to occur in the near future,” the study says.

The images created by the researchers show how the melting of the Thwaites glacier creates parallel ribbed lines along the sea floor that serve as indicators for the speed of its cancellation.  / Credit: Nature Geoscience

The images created by the researchers show how the melting of the Thwaites glacier creates parallel ribbed lines along the sea floor that serve as indicators for the speed of its cancellation. / Credit: Nature Geoscience

“Thwaites is really holding on for the nails today,” study co-author and British Antarctic Survey marine geophysicist Robert Larter said in a press release. “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 beyond a shallow ridge in its bed.”

“Our findings suggest that very rapid retreat pulses have occurred on the Thwaites Glacier over the past two centuries, and possibly as late as the mid-20th century,” said lead author Alastair Graham, of the University’s College of Marine Science. South Florida.

The thinner the glacier thins, the shorter the time it will take before another amplified melt event, the study says, and recent glacier observations increase the likelihood that such an event could occur “in the coming decades.”

Not even a year ago, scientists warned that Thwaites’ last ice shelf – the only reinforcement left to prevent its total collapse – could only last a year. a few more years. The hot water seeping under the giant ice block is a major contributor to its melting and could help lead to the final collapse of the platform in just five years.

Hot water was first discovered beneath the glacier in its rooting zone in 2020. The year before, researchers also discovered a massive cavity almost as big as Manhattan under the glacier.

“Just a little kick to Thwaites could lead to a big response,” Graham said.

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