"Doomsday Glacier" Near a Tipping Point

"Doomsday Glacier" Near a Tipping Point

In a new study, scientists examined the history of the Thwaites Glacier, an antarctic ice shelf nicknamed the “doomsday glacier” because if it melts, global sea levels could rise precipitously. In early 2021, experts predicted the Thwaites glacier could collapse in the next three to five years. But the new research shows that the Florida-sized glacier has been retreating from its stabilizing seabed ridge and melting even faster, at a rate of 1.3 miles per year.

“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,” Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of the study’s co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey, said in a press release.

PBS: Scientists measure how quickly crucial Antarctica glacier is melting, July 25, 2022.

PBS: Melting of the Thwaites Glacier could rewrite the global coastline, December 15, 2021.

PBS: The Doomsday Glacier is Collapsing…Who Is Most at Risk?, April 18, 2022.

MSNBC: 'Doomsday Glacier' | Experts Raise Alarms About Cracking Antarctic Ice Shelf, December 30, 2021.

Why This Matters

Ice draining from Thwaites Glacier into the Amundsen Sea is responsible for 4% of global sea level rise, which already threatens communities worldwide. Only 15.5% of the world's coasts remain intact, and coastal cities like Mumbai may submerge by 2050. If the Thwaites Glacier glacier collapses, sea levels could rise by up to ten feet.

In 2017, iceberg A-68 broke off the Larsen Ice Shelf, another large glacier, and dumped enough water into the ocean in three years to fill over 60 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. If ice sheets continue to melt, extreme flooding is a likely outcome. Over the next 30 years, projections show an average sea level rise of one foot along US coasts, while some pacific island communities may find themselves completely underwater.

NASA: Journey of Antarctica's A-68A | The Voyage of One of the Planet's Largest Icebergs, April 21, 2021.

CNN: 'Mind boggling' | See how rising sea levels will affect the coasts, February 17, 2022.

Now This: How Melting Arctic Ice Affects the Earth, August 22, 2021.

Heat Waves At Both Poles

Ice sheets like the Thwaites Glacier are at risk because the Arctic and Antarctic are warming much faster than the rest of the world. Earlier this year, record-breaking heatwaves hit the North and South Poles simultaneously, despite experiencing opposite seasons. Parts of Antarctica were 70+ degrees Fahrenheit above average, and parts of the Arctic reached 50+ degrees Fahrenheit above average.

CBS: The Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than rest of the planet, new research shows, August 12, 2022.

CNN: ‘Deeply concerning to scientists' | Greenland's ice is rapidly melting in warm weather, July 20, 2022.

Over just one weekend in July, hot weather in Greenland melted enough water to cover the entire state of West Virginia. Heatwaves on the island nation have also extended the melting season, making this September the largest and latest melting event. Typically, only 10% of the ice sheet surface melts in early September, but last weekend, heat caused melting across approximately 35% of it.

If the world doesn’t reduce its emissions, the weather in the Arctic tundra could change dramatically, like experiencing more rain than snow as early as 2060, according to one study.

DW: Time is running out | WMO warns 1.5 degree threshold could be topped by 2026, May 18, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to CNN's Connect the World about the extreme heat, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022

WW0 Conversation: Dr. Michalea King and John Kerry Instagram Live conversation streamed on September 24, 2020.