Scientists locate ‘doomsday’ glaciers of Thwaites, Antarctica

by Seth Borenstein | The Associated Press

A team of scientists is visiting “the hardest-to-reach places in the world” to get a better idea of ​​how much and how fast the oceans will rise due to global warming eating up Antarctica’s ice.

Thirty-two scientists are beginning a more than two-month mission aboard a US research ship on Thursday to investigate the critical region where the massive melting Thwaites Glacier faces the Amundsen Sea and ultimately causes warming. Large amounts of snow can be lost. The Florida-sized glacier is nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” because of how much ice it contains and how much ocean can rise if it melts—more than two feet (65 centimeters) over hundreds of years.

Because of its importance, the United States and the United Kingdom are in the midst of a joint $50 million mission to study Thwaites, the largest glacier in the world by land and sea. Not near any research centers on the continent, Thwaites is in the western half of Antarctica, jutting east of the Antarctic Peninsula, which scientists in the field were most concerned about.

Anna Wahlin, an oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, said, “Thwaites is the main reason I would say there is such a great uncertainty in projections of future sea level rise and that is because it is a very remote region, as far as It’s hard to reach.” Sweden said on Wednesday in an interview with the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, which was about to leave its port in Chile hours later. “It’s configured in a way so that it’s potentially unstable. And that’s why we’re concerned about that.”

Thwaites is putting about 50 billion tons of ice into the water a year. The British Antarctic Survey says glaciers are responsible for 4% of global sea rise, and are accelerating to lose more ice because of it, University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos told McMurdo Land Station last month.

Oregon State University ice scientist Erin Petit said Thwaites is collapsing in three ways:

• Melting from below by sea water.

• The ground portion of the glacier is “losing its hold” at the point where it joins the ocean floor, so a large portion may sink into the ocean and later melt.

• The glacier’s ice shelf is breaking into hundreds of fractures like a damaged car windshield. That’s what Petit said, he fears that the six-mile (10-kilometer) long cracks in just one year will cause the most problems.

No one has set foot at the major ice-water interface in Thwaites before. In 2019, Vahlin was on a team that explored the area from a ship using a robotic ship, but never went ashore.

Wahlin’s team will use two robotic ships – its own larger Rann that it used in 2019 and the more agile Boaty McBoatface, a crowdsourced drone that can move across the Thwaites region that stretches over the ocean – of Thwaites. to go down.

Scientists aboard the ship will measure water temperature, sea level and ice thickness. They will look at cracks in the ice, how the ice is structured and seal tags on islands far from the glacier.