Antarctica’s so-calleddoomsday glacier“- because of this the nickname was given high risk of collapse And the threat to global sea levels – has the potential to retreat sharply in the coming years, scientists say, raising concerns over extreme rise in sea level Which would be accompanied by its possible demise.
The Thwaites Glacier, which is capable of raising sea level by several feet, along with its underwater base is eroding as the planet warms. In one discovery Published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists mapped the glacier’s historic retreat, hoping to learn from its past what the glacier will do in the future.
They found that at some point in the past two centuries, the base of the glacier separated from sea level and retreated at a rate of 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) per year. This is more than double the rate observed by scientists in the past decade.
This rapid disintegration likely occurred “as recently as the mid-20th century,” Alistair Graham, the study’s lead author and a marine geophysicist at the University of South Florida, said in a news release.
This suggests that Thwaites has the potential to retreat rapidly in the near future, once it retreats from an oceanic ridge that is helping to keep it under control.
“Thwaites is really catching on with its fingernails today, and we should expect to see big changes on smaller time scales in the future – even from one year to the next – once glaciers become shallower in their bed.” Ridge retreats,” Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of the study co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey, said in the release.
The Thwaites Glacier, located in West Antarctica, is the widest on Earth and is larger than the state of Florida. But it’s just a bloc of the West Antarctic ice sheet that holds enough ice to raise sea levels by 16 feet, according to NASA.
As the climate crisis has intensified, the region has been closely monitored because of its rapid melting and potential for widespread coastal destruction.
The Thwaites Glacier has intrigued scientists for decades. As early as 1973, researchers questioned whether it was at high risk of collapse. About a decade later, they found that – because the glacier is frozen on an ocean floor rather than dry land – warm ocean currents can melt the glacier from below, making it unstable from below.
It was because of that research that scientists began Calling the area around Thwaites “The Weak Underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”
In the 21st century, researchers began documenting the rapid retreat of thwaits in an alarming series of studies.
In 2001, satellite data showed that the grounding line was shrinking by about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) per year. In 2020, scientists found evidence that really hot water was flowing Across the base of the glacier, melting it from below.
And then in 2021, a study showed the Thwaites Ice Shelf, which helps stabilize glaciers and prevent ice from flowing freely into the ocean, may disintegrate within five years,
“From satellite data, we are seeing these large fractures spread across the ice shelf surface, essentially weakening the ice fabric; like a windscreen crack,” said Peter Davies, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey in 2021. told CNN. “It’s slowly spreading across the ice shelf and eventually it’s going to fracture into many different pieces.”
According to a news release, Monday’s findings, which suggest Thwaites are capable of receding at a much faster rate than had recently been thought, were documented in extreme conditions on the 20-hour mission, which took place on an underwater mission. Used to map the area below to the size of Houston.
Graham said the research was a “really once in a lifetime mission,” but the team expects to return soon to collect samples from the seafloor so that they can determine if there was a previous rapid return. When did it happen? This could help scientists predict future changes in “doomsday glaciers” that scientists previously believed would be slow to undergo change – Graham said this study refutes.
“Just a small kick to Thwaites can get a big reaction,” Graham said.