If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you have probably been hearing about the Thwaites doomsday iceberg. You may have been alarmed by its rapid retreat. Now, it’s showing signs of vulnerability to climate change and its likely impact on sea level.
The doomsday glacier
An enormous ice structure off the coast of West Antarctica called the Thwaites glacier. Has been granted nicknamed the “doomsday glacier.” If it were to melt, it could raise sea levels by several feet and cause catastrophic consequences for coastal populations around the world. A new study co-authored by marine geophysicist Rob Larter raises alarms about the glacier’s rapid retreat.
In the past two centuries, Thwaites Glacier’s base began to retreat. Causing sea levels to rise by a couple of meters. It has now retreated at a rate of 1.3 miles a year. Which is twice as fast as the glacier’s rate of retreat over the last decade. Global sea levels are expected to rise as a result. At more than than three to six feet by the end of this century.
Fortunately, the lack of sea ice has allowed scientists to reach the leading edge of the Thwaites ice shelf. The portion of the glacier floating over the water. Researchers used a small orange submersible named Ran to collect data. In order to make a high resolution map of the sea floor in front of the glacier. This information will help scientists understand how rapidly the glacier was retreating in the past.
These data have revealed that Thwaites glacier was once the leading edge of the glacier. But as the glacier retreated, it lost contact with the stabilizing seabed. In fact, its retreat has been twice as fast as previous satellite observations of its retreat.
Scientists say this data is critical for predicting sea level rise scenarios under climate change. The glacier may eventually collapse and open a wide path for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to flow. But if this happens, the glacier may only be hanging on by its fingernails.
If Thwaites glacier is able to survive its current position. It could undergo a dramatic transformation once it has retreated beyond the ridge. It may become unstable over the next few decades. That would mean big trouble for humans.
Its rapid retreat
The Thwaites doomsday-glacier is rapidly retreating, and scientists are concerned that it may eventually collapse and contribute to global sea level rise. In the recent study, researchers deployed a robotic vehicle called Ran to explore the seabed in front of the glacier, an area the size of Houston. The first time an autonomous vehicle was used to explore this part of the seafloor.
A large part of Thwaites Glacier’s rapid retreat is caused by its grounding zone. Which sits well below the ocean’s surface. Here, jagged points on the seafloor hold it in place. Eventually, these rocky ridges will break off and shift into the ocean. Scientists can measure the rate of this process by looking at the indentations on the seafloor.
The Thwaites glacier’s rapid retreat has been slowing down in recent years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still retreating rapidly. During the last two centuries, Thwaites retreated at 1.3 miles per year. Almost twice the rate it retreated during the past decade. Scientists believe that this glacier could begin retreating again as soon as the mid-twentieth century.
The researchers used high-resolution satellite imagery to map the seafloor in front of Thwaites. These images reveal the ridges that the glacier left on the seabed. These findings will help scientists predict what Thwaites will look like in the near future.
The Thwaites doomsday-glacier may face rapid retreat in the future, resulting in existential consequences for marine ecosystems. A ten-foot rise in sea level is not unlikely in a few decades. Besides raising the sea level, the glacier could also damage the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which locks away about 10 feet of sea level rise. The consequences would be disastrous.
The Thwaites glacier is around the size of the state of Florida in the U.S., or even the entire United Kingdom. Its rapid retreat could cause global sea levels to rise three to ten feet (up to three meters), or more. The glacier is losing an estimated 50 billion tons of ice each year.
Its vulnerability to climate change
One of the most alarming glaciers in the world is the Thwaites doomsday, a massive glacier the size of Florida or Great Britain, which contributes to four percent of the rise in sea level. Its vulnerability to climate change has raised the stakes for coastal communities. Though the ice shelf supporting the glacier is stable, the ice sheet below it is losing ice rapidly, which could cause it to collapse. In the worst case scenario, the Thwaites dooms day glacier could collapse, raising sea levels several feet.
This ice shelf collapse could lead to further ice loss at Thwaites, accelerating its flow even further. Scientists will be watching this region closely during the summer thaw to see if any more ice shelves collapse. If so, the floating ice shelf on the glacier may break into icebergs and form a massive cliff.
If the Thwaites glacier were to collapse without the ice shelf, it would eventually discharge all of its ice into the ocean. The ice shelf helps stabilize the glacier, but it can break up within five years if the ocean temperatures continue to rise.
Scientists are studying the Thwaites glacier every summer using satellites, on land, and on ships. Their goal is to collect instrument data that will help model the ice flow on the glacier. So far, the team has been able to uncover major changes in the ice sheet and its climatic vulnerability.
The Thwaites glacier’s vulnerability to climate change is so great that the ice shelf has actually lost its grip on an underwater mountain. This has led to massive fractures on the floating eastern side of the glacier. While the ice tongue is still stable, it is no longer a reliable influence on the rest of the eastern ice shelf.
As the ocean levels rise, the Thwaites glacier’s melting rate will accelerate. This will ultimately affect the entire grounded ice sheet. This could cause the sea level to rise by up to 65 centimeters. This is a potentially catastrophic event for people living in coastal areas, who will be displaced by the rising sea levels.
Its potential impact on sea level
The Thwaites doomsday Glacier is one of the largest sheets of ice on earth. It’s the world’s widest glacier, and it sits on bedrock on the western edge of Antarctica, abutting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the east and the Amundsen Sea to the west. It sheds 50 billion tons of ice annually, contributing to an estimated 4% of annual sea-level rise.
Scientists predict that a collapsed Thwaites glacier could set off a chain reaction of glaciers in surrounding areas, raising sea levels by several meters. This would cause a major disaster for coastal cities, and it would also affect low-lying islands.
Suggesting the Thwaites glacier may blow out again, increasing the flow of the glacier and accelerating the onset of sea level rise. They are closely monitoring the glacier for further collapse of the ice shelf, which could lead to a gigantic cliff of ice.
Researchers surveyed the seabed beneath the glacier and used remote-controlled diving robots to monitor the water temperatures and salinities. They found that the ocean is warming deep under the ice sheet. The warm water could further accelerate the process of deterioration.
Predictions are that the Thwaites Glacier’s possible collapse could raise sea levels by 25 inches – enough to flood Bangkok and New Orleans. This rise could also place millions at risk globally. In the worst-case scenario, the glacier’s collapse could also lead to the collapse of other West Antarctic glaciers, which may drag more ice into the ocean.
Thwaites glacier is currently retreating as a result of its deterioration. The glacier’s leading edge has disintegrated by up to two kilometers a year. The glacier’s retreat has slowed down since then, but it may still collapse in the near future.
The melting of Thwaites glacier is responsible for about 10% of the global rise in sea level. The glacier’s melt is caused by warm water attacking its base. This warm water is pumped under the ice shelf by tides. The warm water mixes with the broken rock and ice. As a result, Thwaites’ melting exposes an ever thicker pile of ice.
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Provided by Antonio Westley
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion.