Just as there is the Doomsday Clock, which marks its minutes to midnight depending on how close we are to the end of humanity (metaphorically), there is the popularly known Doomsday Glacier. Although the latter is a real danger.
With an area similar to the United Kingdom or the state of Florida, this gigantic ice mass, which is actually called Thwaites, crosses a 120-kilometre stretch of frozen coastline and extends to a depth of approximately 800 to 1,200 meters on its line. grounding, where the glacier changes from a mass of ice attached to the land to a floating ice shelf in the Amundsen Sea. Its progressive melting contributes 4 percent of sea level rise annually.
This glacier is located in West Antarctica and is the widest in the world. But why do they call it “Doomsday Glacier”? Because its collapse could trigger a cascade of glacial collapse in Antarctica, and the latest research from the frozen continent suggests this could happen even sooner than expected.
In December 2021, the international group of scientists dedicated to the investigation of this glacier, announced that it detected new cracks in the eastern ice shelf of Thwaites. Likewise, he warned that parts of that platform could collapse in just five yearsaccelerating the movement of ice inland toward the sea and eventually causing sea levels to rise several feet.
Ocean warming is not only melting Thwaites from below, but also loosening the glacier’s grip on the submerged seamount below, making it even more unstable. As the glacier weakens, it becomes more prone to surface fractures that could spread until the entire ice shelf breaks “like a car window.”
Over the past decade, Thwaites’ observations have shown that the glacier is changing more dramatically than any other ice and ocean system in Antarctica, thanks to human-induced climate change and increased warming in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Earth.
Thwaites has already lost an estimated 900 billion metric tons of ice since 2000; its annual ice loss has doubled in the last 30 years, and it now loses about 45 billion metric tons more ice than it receives in the form of snowfall each year, according to the Thwaites Glaciers International Collaboration (ITGC).
Some studies have shown that much of West Antarctica may already be on an unstoppable melting path, but the specific timing is unclear.
That is why, currently, the team of scientists keep going conducting research on the ground, as they urgently aim to gain a better understanding of what is happening near the glacier land line. That’s where glacial ice meets the seafloor, or where floating ice meets land ice. Along with this, they intend to analyze the fate of some of the most populous cities in the world, from New York to Mumbai.
Conditions there will help scientists model the probable future of the glacier. The topography of the West Antarctic seafloor is such that if the ice shelf were to melt significantly or even collapse, warm water could flow inland and melt land ice.
This means that if the ice shelf breaks, it will open the way for the massive amounts of interior ice it holds, like a doorstop or a cork in a wine bottle, to flow faster out to sea. This would raise sea levels, with potentially catastrophic consequences for coastal cities around the world.
The team of scientists and engineers plan to use hot water drilling to drill boreholes through the ice shelf to peer into the water below. They will also use small unmanned submarines to take readings under the ice and learn more about water temperatures, salinity and ocean currents in areas that are critical to stabilizing the glacier.
If the ocean temperatures just below the ice shelf were above freezing, it would melt the ice shelf from below. This has been happening in parts of Thwaites Glacier, based on satellite readings and extensive field surveys so far.