The "Doomsday Glacier" Is Melting Faster Than Ever
According to a new report, the Thwaites Glacier is melting faster than it has in 5,500 years. This glacier, a Florida-sized part of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf (WAIS), has been nicknamed the "doomsday” glacier because there is enough warm water underneath it to raise the sea level considerably.
By using radiocarbon to analyze seashells and penguin bones on Arctic beaches, researchers have traced the melting of the Thwaites Glacier over millennia. The data has shown that ice loss began roughly 5,000 years ago, resulting in a sea level rise of 0.14 inches per year. But in the past 30 years, that rate has skyrocketed to 1.57 inches per year.
PBS: Melting of the Thwaites Glacier could rewrite the global coastline, December 15, 2021.
Why This Matters
Ice draining from Thwaites Glacier into the Amundsen Sea is already responsible for 4% of global sea level rise. If the glacier collapses, the sea could rise up to a foot. It’s not just the Thwaites Glacier -- a huge section of the Larsen Ice Shelf fell into the ocean in 2002 over just three days. Due to human-caused warming, ice melt keeps accelerating. Without significant emissions reductions, these glaciers will melt and collapse, causing coastal destruction and increased flooding worldwide.
MSNBC: 'Doomsday Glacier' | Experts Raise Alarms About Cracking Antarctic Ice Shelf, December 30, 2021.
PBS: The Doomsday Glacier is Collapsing…Who Is Most at Risk?, April 18, 2022.
Is It Too Late?
Researchers are currently drilling through the glacier to collect rock beneath the ice, which may provide insight as to whether or not the melting can be reversed. Still, even with the samples collected, an accurate assessment may be increasingly difficult to measure. Due to ice melt, avalanches have become more frequent, making the collection of data more dangerous for researchers.
"These current elevated rates of ice melting may signal that those vital arteries from the heart of the WAIS have been ruptured, leading to accelerating flow into the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea level in a warming world,” said Dr. Dylan Rood, a co-author of the study, in a statement. "We now urgently need to work out if it's too late to stop the bleeding.”
NOAA: Arctic Report Card 2021, December 14, 2021.