The fate of the “Doom Glacier” hangs in the balance

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The Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doom Glacier”, may melt in the near future and cause sea and ocean levels to rise significantly. The team of researchers found that at one point in the last 200 years, the rate of its recession, and therefore decay, was more than two kilometers per year.

The Thwaites Glacier is located in West Antarctica, and its size is larger than that of Florida. Its condition has been troubling researchers for many decades. As early as 1973, they wondered what the risk of a glacier disappearing was. Almost a decade later, they discovered that because the glacier is deposited on the seabed rather than on dry land, warm ocean currents can melt it from below as well, destabilizing it. In turn, already in the twenty-first century, scientists began to clearly notice how quickly Thwaites is receding. In 2001, satellite data showed that its edge was moving about a kilometer per year. In 2021, analyzes were carried out which showed that, after a Thwaites base fracture, all its contents could drain into the ocean within five years.

In the study, released Monday in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, scientists described glacier retreat in the past and provided further disturbing information about Thwaites.

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The study used a special robot vehicle called the Rán, which mapped the area of ​​the seabed in front of the glacier. This documented more than 160 rib-like ridges that formed as the glacier front retracted and repositioned.

To understand past glacier retreat, the team analyzed footprints 700 meters below the ocean’s surface and considered the region’s tidal cycle. As noted, at one point in the past 200 years, in less than six months, the glacier front has lost contact with the seabed ridge and has retreated at a rate of more than 2.1 kilometers per year. “Our results suggest that the impulses of very fast regression appeared in the last two centuries, and possibly in the middle of the 20th century,” noted lead author Alastair Graham of the University of South Florida.

If the Thwaites Glacier and the surrounding ice basins melted, global sea levels could rise by 90-300 centimeters.

“Thwaites’ fate is in the balance,” said Robert Larter of the British Antarctic Survey, a marine geophysicist and one of the study’s co-authors. In the future, we should expect that very big changes can take place in Thwaites in a very short time. These changes can even occur from year to year as the glacier recedes beyond the shallow ridge in its substrate, he added.

Thwaites GlacierNASA / James Yungel

CNN, phys.org, nature.com

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