Researchers Warn Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier Is ‘Hanging By Its Fingernails’

thwaites glacier
Between bovine belches and a lack of care in protecting the earth, the end could be nigh as researchers have recently investigated the past and potential future decline of a large glacier in Antarctica dubbed the “Doomsday Glacier.”

According to research published in the Nature Geoscience journal earlier this week, the Thwaites glacier could begin to melt uncontrollably and affect coastal ecosystems, hence the doomsday moniker. It is reported that “sustained pulses of rapid retreat have occurred at Thwaites Glacier in the past two centuries.” At some point in this 200-year timeframe, the grounding zone, or “the region in which the glacier comes afloat in the ocean,” retreated at a peak rate of 2.1km (1.3mi) per year over 5.5 months. This rate is twice that of what was observed by satellite between 2011 and 2019, and while this may seem acceptable for now, the problem at hand cannot be ignored.

Coupling this historical evidence of retreat with more modern data, there are most definitely uncertainties and factors that are cause for concern. Between the depth of the glacier and warm, dense deep water heating things up, the glacier could be susceptible to “runaway retreat.” It is also feared that once the Thwaites Glacier retreats past stabilizing high points on the sea floor, further rapid retreat pulses could contribute to the runaway retreat.

In a press release, marine geophysicist and research co-author Robert Larter of the British Antarctic Survey explained that “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails.” He continued, saying, “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.” Scarily, big changes at this scale, up to a total loss of the glacier, could mean several feet of sea level change affecting the entire globe.

With this, perhaps it is time to start seriously looking at what damage we are inflicting on the Earth so as to not accelerate or exacerbate an existing problem. We can already see the impact we are having using satellite imagery through Google Earth.  Up next, we might live in a future where Miami is a nice SCUBA destination, and billions of people are displaced from their homes.

(Top Image Courtesy of NASA/OIB/Jeremy Harbeck)
Tags:  Glacier, climate