The ‘Doomsday Glacier’ in Antarctic: Why It Could Be So Catastrophic

There is a huge glacier in West Antarctica that is roughly the size of Florida. Known as the Thwaites Glacier, this enormous block of ice is large, stunning, ancient, and—until recently—seemed to be endless. This is where the “doomsday” aspect is relevant. According to recent scientific research, the Thwaites Glacier is melting far faster than previously thought.

Sea levels will increase to an unprecedented level when this glacier melts. This will ultimately have terrible effects on all of us as well as others in many different regions of the world. Now, let’s explore the “Doomsday Glacier” in Antarctica as a tangible example of why we must act now to address the climate issue and global warming. Let’s figure out why it might be so disastrous while we’re at it.

The Doomsday Glacier and How It Got Its Name

An ice shelf on the Thwaites Glacier’s ocean-facing edge holds it to the larger continent of Antarctica. The Thwaites Glacier can’t separate from the continent because of this enormous, frozen shelf. The results of recent scientific investigations are consistent. While the ice at the base of this shelf is melting more slowly than expected, the Thwaites Glacier is melting far more quickly at significant fissures, splits, and formations called stairs.

Every year, the Doomsday Glacier loses more ice to the ocean due to the acceleration of climate change. It already releases billions of tons of ice annually. That accounts for up to 4% of the annual increase in sea levels. The glacier has receded about nine kilometers from its resting place on the bottom since the year 2000. Warmer seawater gains more access to the glacier’s main body with each intrusion.

The Threat of The Doomsday Glacier’s Collapse

In the event that the Thwaites Glacier melts, sea levels will increase more than two feet all at once. Every continent’s coast would be affected by this for its residents. New coasts would be moved farther inland, effectively wiping out these villages. Naturally, as climate change snowballs, till the next catastrophic occurrence elevated the sea level even farther.

In actuality, a cascade of events would probably result with the collapse of the Doomsday Glacier. Nearly all of the ice in West Antarctica would be released when other glaciers surrounded by Thwaites collapsed. Sea levels could rise by two feet if Thwaites is destroyed. But in the end, they might rise more than ten feet as a result of its ripple effects.

Study of the Doomsday Glacier

Consider yourself attempting to disarm a time bomb without even knowing how long the countdown is. This is the dilemma that climate scientists studying Thwaites Glacier are facing. The ice shelf might be able to survive for hundreds of years more, even though it is receding. Or it might occur tomorrow. The consequences of detonating the “glacier bomb” will be hard to foresee and unavoidable.

These are the challenges that scientists are facing as they try to gather as much information as possible on the Thwaites Glacier. They look for this information in an effort to foresee or possibly avert Thwaites’ demise.

The Thwaites Glacier Collaboration was established in 2019 and dispatches American and British specialists to investigate the Doomsday Glacier. They removed a sample of ice from 2,000 feet inside the glacier in an attempt to understand more about how global warming is affecting the ice shelf. They sent a variety of devices and gauges down into the hole they had dug. Additionally, they were able to use Icefin, a drone that could be controlled remotely and sent into waters too dangerous for humans to survive. This torpedo-shaped robot measured salinity, temperature, and current intensity as well as taking pictures and videos of the surroundings. This wealth of data was gathered by Icefin across a wide region, from the sea floor to the ice.

Findings of the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration

Let’s begin with the sole positive update.The rate of melt is less than previous models indicated beneath the retreating glacier. That being said, the recession remains significant at 2 to 5.4 meters each year. We were able to determine the cause of the slower-than-expected melt thanks to the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. There is a layer of colder water beneath the shelf that is renewed by the currents more often. This layer is situated between the Antarctic Ocean and the ice shelf’s base.

The bad news is here, and it’s a big one. First off, the glacier is retreating faster than predicted even though it is melting more slowly than predicted.

(Let’s examine that a little more: The glaciers that are in the best of health are always melting. The only difference is that fresh ice is continuously added to the healthiest glaciers. As evaporation, precipitation, and accumulation all take place in Antarctica, you can think of it as the coldest extremity of the precipitation cycle that is taught in most Earth Science schools. Just how frigid it gets when they do!

An Alarming Discovery About Crevasses

Let’s go back to the Doomsday Glacier’s issue: despite melting more slowly than anticipated, the glacier is nonetheless getting smaller over time. In connection with that, the team found—good news and bad news—that the underwater landscape of this glacier was significantly more topographically rich than they had anticipated, thanks to Icefin’s assistance. These scientists discovered a world of terraces that they claim resemble staircases in place of what they had expected to be a topography akin to the areas of glaciers that are above water. Additionally, they discovered crevasses, which are slender gorges that extend as deep as the ice shelf itself where it has fractured.

Additionally, the Thwaites Collaboration discovered that it was in these crevasses where the Doomsday Glacier was melting the fastest. Warmer and saltier water found its way down into the glacier’s core through these enormous fissures, which served as natural funnels. Here, it can quicken the melting rate even further, creating a deeper chasm at Thwaites’ weakest possible weak points. According to the scientists researching Thwaites, this process is most likely what will cause the ice shelf that is shielding the glacier to completely collapse.

How Science and Awareness Can Mitigate “Doomsday”

It is important to note that these discoveries were revolutionary. We now know more about the Doomsday Glacier’s precise melting locations, rate of change, and eventual shape of its demise than we did before thanks to the Thwaites Collaboration. Although this is somewhat depressing task, the information is nonetheless beneficial to us.

It is concerning because this is merely the most recent study showing how quickly the Thwaites Glacier is disappearing. The Thwaites Collaboration and a 2021 research came to the same conclusion, stating that the ice shelf at Thwaites would break within the next five years, which was two years ago.

The only silver lining is that the future is still blank, and the more people are aware of the catastrophic effects that the melting of the Doomsday Glacier will cause, the more likely it is that they will demand that their leaders take global boiling seriously and act quickly to combat it. A plan for dealing with the Thwaites Glacier’s collapse would ultimately preserve lives and property in coastal communities all over the world, even though the glacier may not be able to be saved.