Thwaites Glacier’s mission to Antarctica may shed light on how far sea level will rise

A team of scientists is traveling to Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier” to find out how much water levels may rise after global warming removes the continent’s ice.


A team of 32 scientists joined a US research vessel and left on January 6 to begin their two-month journey to visit the melting Thwaites Glacier on the western side of the continent.

Scientists are concerned about this particular glacier because of its sheer size and how far it is, making it challenging for scientists to study.


The glacier is the size of Florida and is currently adding about 50 billion tons of ice to the ocean every year. It accounts for about 4 percent of global ocean rise, University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos said at McMurdo Land Station last month.

“Thwaites is the main reason I would say we have such great uncertainty in our projections of future sea level rise,” said Anna Vahlin, an oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.


“It’s configured in a way so that it’s potentially unstable. And that’s why we’re concerned about that,” she told Research Vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer on Wednesday.

The team headed to the glacier said they plan to research the cracks in the ice and its structure. They will also measure water temperature, ice thickness and sea level.

This 2020 photo provided by the British Antarctic Survey shows the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Since January 6, 2021, a team of scientists has been sailing to the massively melting Thwaites Glacier, “the most difficult to reach place in the world” to better explore how the ocean How much and how fast will it rise? Global warming is eating away at Antarctica’s ice.
David Vaughan/British Antarctic Survey/AP Photo

Thwaites “looks different from other ice shelves,” Wahlin said. “It almost looks like a clump of icebergs that have been pressed together. So it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t a solid piece of ice like other ice shelves are, nice smooth solid ice. It’s a lot more jagged.” And it was scorched.”


The Florida-sized glacier is nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” because of how much ice it contains and how much the ocean can rise if it melts more than two feet (65 centimeters) over hundreds of years.

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

– Melting from below by sea water.


— The glacier’s landmass is “losing its hold” at the point where it joins the ocean floor, so a large portion can sink into the ocean and melt later.

– 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 stepped on the major ice-water interface at 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 large Rann that it used in 2019 and the more nimble Boaty McBoatface, a crowdsourced drone that can move across the Thwaites region that stretches out over the ocean—of Thwaites. to go down.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

crack in the ice
A team of 32 scientists joined a US research vessel and set off on January 6, 2022 to begin their two-month journey to visit the melting Thwaites Glacier located on the western side of the continent. Above, a photo shows parts of a glacier in the Kenai Mountains near Primrose, Alaska, in September 2019. Ice earthquakes and frost earthquakes are caused by quick changes in stress.
Joe Redl / Getty