Thursday, February 29, 2024

Doomsday Glacier Began Melting Earlier Than Previously Thought

Thwaites Glacier

According to a new study, the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica has been losing ice at an accelerating rate since the 1940s. Previously, scientists thought the glacier only began losing its ice much in the 1970s.
This study’s findings are ominous; the glacier has been nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” because its collapse could result in disastrous sea level rising.

The study, published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed marine sediment cores taken from beneath the ocean floor to reconstruct the glacier’s history from its present to over 10,000 years ago. They found that the Thwaites Glacier, and its neighboring Pine island Glacier, both lost contact with the seafloor highs in the 1940s.

They believe that a massive El Niño took place at around the same time that these glaciers began to lose their mass.

 “Thwaites Glacier plays a vital role in regulating West Antarctic Ice Sheet stability and, thus, global sea-level rise,” the study authors write.

If the Thwaites Glacier collapses on its own, it will cause sea levels to rise by roughly two feet (65 centimeters). And because it is responsible for holding back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, its collapse could trigger further melting that may spiral into a sea level rise of 10 feet (3 meters) and cause catastrophic global flooding.

“The synchronous ice retreat of these two major ice streams suggests that, rather than being driven by internal dynamics unique to each glacier, retreat in the Amundsen Sea drainage sector results from external oceanographic and atmospheric drivers, which recent modeling studies show are modulated by climate variability," the study authors write.

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