Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier is in peril, images reveal. The so-called ‘doomsday glacier’ could trigger 10 feet of sea-level rise if it melts.


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Scientists call it the doomsday glacier.

That’s partly because the Thwaites, a Britain-sized glacier in western Antarctica, is melting at an alarming rate: It’s retreating by about half a mile (2,625 feet) per year. Scientists estimate the glacier will lose all of its ice in about 200 to 600 years. When it does, it will raise sea levels by about 1.6-2 feet.

But the sea-level rise wouldn’t stop there. Thwaites’ nickname stems mostly from what would happen after it melts. Right now, the glacier acts as a buffer between the warming sea and other glaciers. Its collapse could bring neighboring ice masses in western Antarctica down with it. Added up, that process would raise sea levels by nearly 10 feet, permanently submerging many coastal areas including parts of New York City, Miami, and the Netherlands. 

“It’s a major change, a rewriting of the coastline,” David Holland, a professor of atmospheric science at New York University who contributes research to the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, told PBS NewsHour in February.

This moth, two new studies have added detail to the alarming picture. Research published last week in the journal Cryosphere found that warm ocean currents may be eating away at the Thwaites Glacier’s underbelly. A study published Monday, meanwhile, used satellite imagery to show that sections of Thwaites and its neighbor, the Pine Island Glacier, are breaking apart more quickly than previously thought. That work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The images below reveal what’s happening to the Thwaites and nearby glaciers, along with what could happen in the future. 

SEE ALSO: One of Antarctica’s biggest glaciers will soon reach a point of irreversible melting. That would cause sea levels to rise at least 1.6 feet.

SEE ALSO: There’s a cavity underneath Antarctica that’s two thirds the size of Manhattan — a sign ice sheets are melting faster than we thought

The melting of the Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers already account for about 5% of global sea-level rise.

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It’s not just the Thwaites: The Antarctic ice sheet is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s. It’s shedding 252 billion tons annually, up from 40 billion tons per year 40 years ago.

If the entire Antarctic ice sheet melted, scientists estimate sea levels would rise by 200 feet.

Before-and-after images taken from space show the Thwaites glacier dissolving into the sea.


“What the satellites are showing us is a glacier coming apart at the seams,” Ted Scambos, a senior scientist at the University of Colorado, told NASA in February.

This rapid melting is happening in part because natural buffers holding the Thwaites and Pine Glaciers in place are breaking apart, according to new research.

Crevasses like those in the image of Pine Island Glacier above form near glaciers’ shear margins: areas where fast-moving glacier ice meets slower-moving ice or rock, which keeps it contained.

The new PNAS study found that shear margins on the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers are weakening and breaking apart, which could cause …read more

Source:: Business Insider – Science

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