“The Doomsday Glacier is coming for us all”


Jeff Goodell

One thing that’s hard to grasp about the climate crisis is that big changes can happen fast. In 2019, I was aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot-long scientific research vessel, cruising in front of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. One day, we were sailing in clear seas in front of the glacier. The next day, we were surrounded by icebergs the size of aircraft carriers.

As we later learned from satellite images, in a matter of 48 hours or so, a mélange of ice about 21 miles wide and 15 miles deep had cracked up and scattered into the sea.

It was a spooky moment. Thwaites Glacier is the size of Florida. It is the cork in the bottle of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 10 feet…

Given the ongoing war for American democracy and the deadly toll of the Covid pandemic, the loss of an ice shelf on a far-away continent populated by penguins might not seem to be big news. But in fact, the West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the most important tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. If Thwaites Glacier collapses, it opens the door for the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet to slide into the sea. Globally, 250 million people live within three feet of high tide lines. Ten feet of sea level rise would be a world-bending catastrophe. It’s not only goodbye Miami, but goodbye to virtually every low-lying coastal city in the world…

Or to put it more urgently: “If there is going to be a climate catastrophe,” Ohio State glaciologist Ian Howat once told me, “it’s probably going to start at Thwaites.”

RTFA.There are many variables. There may even be a small chance they don’t stack up to be a disaster. But, I wouldn’t count on it.

2 thoughts on ““The Doomsday Glacier is coming for us all”

  1. Update says:

    Antarctica’s so-called Doomsday Glacier is losing ice at its fastest rate in 5,500 years, raising concerns about the ice sheet’s future and the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise caused by the frozen continent’s melting ice. https://www.livescience.com/penguin-bones-reveal-secrets-of-ddomsday-glacier
    The finding comes from a study of prehistoric sea-deposits found on the shores surrounding the “doomsday” Thwaites Glacier and the neighboring Pine Island Glacier, both located on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The chilling news? Antarctica’s glacial melt, driven by climate change, is advancing faster than ever before in recorded history, researchers have reported June 9 in the journal Nature Geoscience (opens in new tab).

    • Cassandra says:

      “The Thwaites Glacier, capable of raising sea level by several feet, is eroding along its underwater base as the planet warms. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists mapped the glacier’s historical retreat, hoping to learn from its past what the glacier will likely do in the future.
      “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future — even from one year to the next — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed,” Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of the study’s co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey, said in the release.
      The Thwaites Glacier, located in West Antarctica, is one of the widest on Earth and is larger than the state of Florida. But it’s just a faction of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which holds enough ice to raise sea level by up to 16 feet, according to NASA.” https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/05/world/thwaites-doomsday-glacier-sea-level-climate/index.html

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