The Thwaites glacier in western Antarctica, also known as the “doomsday glacier,” has the power to completely destroy the world. According to NASA estimations, it is roughly the size of Britain and if it melted, the sea level would rise by 0.5 meters (1.6 feet). The cascade of ice melt that would undoubtedly result from it is more worrisome because it would expose glaciers that are currently shielded from the warmer ocean by Thwaites. This sea level rise would submerge New York City, Miami, and the Netherlands. The ice shelf is already receding at a startling rate, but according to new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this rate may accelerate as further damage is discovered to be compromising the ice shelf’s structural stability.
The study tracked how areas of the ice shelf would break and fragment from the glacier’s edge using multisource satellite photos to map how increasing damage to the ice shelf affected its strength. The Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves’ shear zones, which are where the glacier meets the ocean, were the focus of the investigation because of their rapid development of damaged areas. These damaged regions, which are composed of exposed cracks and crevasses where moving ice meets rock, are frequently the earliest signs of ice shelves’ catastrophic deterioration.
According to their simulation, when the ice shelf sustains more damage, it starts a feedback mechanism that weakens it even more. This process accelerates the formation of thinning areas and fissures until chunks of ice break away. The finding offers new insight for researchers studying sea ice, highlighting the significance of taking these feedback loops into account when predicting sea level rise and evaluating the viability of remaining ice shelves.
Beyond ensuring its own life, the Thwaites glacier is crucial because it serves as a buffer between other glaciers and the rising ocean. It might have a cascading impact and bring down ice masses throughout western Antarctica if it were to totally melt. Sea levels might increase by roughly 3 meters (10 feet) as a result of the subsequent release of water into our oceans, destroying coastal communities all over the world.
According to the study’s findings, damaging feedback mechanisms will be crucial for ice shelf stability, grounding line retreat, and contributions from Antarctica to sea level rise in the future. Additionally, they highlight the necessity of including these feedback processes, which are currently not taken into consideration in the majority of ice sheet models, in order to enhance sea level rise estimates.