February 29, 2024

“Doomsday Glacier” Threat: Rapid Retreat of Antarctica’s Riskiest Glacier

Research study group surveying the seafloor near Thwaites Glacier. Credit: Alex Mazur/ British Antarctic Survey
Ice sheets death presents the greatest danger for sea-level rise this century.
Antarcticas Thwaites Glacier, sometimes referred to as the Doomsday Glacier, is pulling back quickly as a warming ocean slowly removes its ice from below, leading to faster flow, more fracturing, and a hazard of collapse, according to an international team of researchers. The glacier is the size of Florida or Britain and currently contributes four percent of yearly worldwide sea level rise. If it does collapse, international water level would rise by numerous feet– putting countless people living in seaside cities in danger zones for extreme flooding..
” Thwaites is the best glacier on the planet,” stated Ted Scambos, a senior research study researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). “Its doubled its outflow speed within the last 30 years, and the glacier in its totality holds enough water to raise water level by over 2 feet. And it might cause a lot more sea-level increase, up to 10 feet, if it draws the surrounding glaciers with it.”.

Scambos is the U.S. lead planner for the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration ( ITGC): a team of nearly 100 scientists funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.K. Natural Environment Research Council devoted to studying the vulnerable glacier. The five-year cooperation is focused on collecting instrument data throughout the glacier and the surrounding ocean, and modeling ice circulation and the future of the ice sheet. Their work has actually exposed significant modifications in the ice, the surrounding water, and the area where it floats off the bedrock below.
Thwaites Glacier tongue. Credit: NASA.
A third of the glacier, along its eastern side, streams more slowly than the rest– its braced by a floating ice shelf, a drifting extension of the glacier that is held in place by an undersea mountain. The ice rack acts like a brace that prevents faster circulation of the upstream ice.
Underneath the surface area, warmer ocean water distributing underneath the floating eastern side is assaulting this glacier from all angles, her team has found. This water is melting the ice straight from underneath, and as it does so, the glacier loses its grip on the undersea mountain. Massive fractures have formed and are growing too, accelerating its demise, said Pettit. This drifting extension of the Thwaites Glacier will likely make it through only a few more years.
Hot water heater utilized by Davis team to drill a bore hole through the ice sheet, to take measurements and deploy instruments. Credit: Peter Davis/BAS.
Warm water is also a risk for the so-called “grounding zone,” the location where the glacier takes off the seabed, said Peter Davis, a physical oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey. Davis and his group use warm water to drill access holes from the ice rack surface to the ocean cavity hundreds of meters below. They have discovered that the ocean waters in the grounding zone are warm, by polar requirements, and salty, and produce prime conditions for melting the ice shelf from beneath.
His team reduced a remote-controlled underwater robotic through the borehole to take measurements of the ocean, ice, and seafloor in this region. Washam describes the grounding zone as “chaotic,” with warm water, rugged ice, and a steep, sloping bottom that permits the water to quickly melt the ice sheet from listed below.
The drifting part of the glacier falls and rises with the tides– and that motion acts like a lever, pumping water under the ice sheet. Downstream of the grounding zone on the bottom of the drifting ice shelf, consistent stretching and melting is rapidly producing long channels through the ice where water can stream, affecting the long term stability of the ice rack, stated Clyne.
As Thwaites retreats upstream and into the ice sheet, it might form very tall ice cliffs at the ocean front. Anna Crawford, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of St. Andrews, and her team usage computer system modeling to study ice cliff failure: a process by which ice can break off the ends of the glacier into the open ocean. A challenge for the team is assessing if, when, and how fast this might happen, however significant ice loss is possible within numerous years to a few centuries.
” If Thwaites were to collapse, it would drag the majority of West Antarcticas ice with it,” said Scambos. “So its important to get a clearer picture of how the glacier will act over the next 100 years.” ITCG research study, including future sea-level forecasts, will be essential for policymakers in their efforts to alleviate and adjust to the impacts of international water level rise, the group stated.
This work existed at the AGU Fall Meeting during a interview on December 13.

The five-year partnership is intended at collecting instrument information throughout the glacier and the nearby ocean, and modeling ice circulation and the future of the ice sheet. Washam describes the grounding zone as “disorderly,” with warm water, rugged ice, and a steep, sloping bottom that permits the water to rapidly melt the ice sheet from listed below.
Downstream of the grounding zone on the bottom of the drifting ice shelf, continuous extending and melting is quickly producing long channels through the ice where water can stream, affecting the long term stability of the ice rack, stated Clyne.
As Thwaites retreats upstream and into the ice sheet, it might form very tall ice cliffs at the ocean front. Anna Crawford, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of St. Andrews, and her group usage computer modeling to study ice cliff failure: a procedure by which ice can break off the ends of the glacier into the open ocean.