Scientists Reveal Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ is ‘Holding On By Its Fingernails’

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

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The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is the widest glacier on planet Earth. Scientists say it’s on the verge of collapse. The repercussions are “spine chilling,” with scientists predicting the glacier’s melt to cause sea levels to rise anywhere between 3 and 10 feet. The Thwaites has been dubbed the “Doomsday Glacier” because of the effect it will have on life on Earth when it collapses.

Recent images show that the Thwaites is in the process of a geological collapse. Last year, scientists sounded the alarm that the glacier may collapse within a few years. And new research shows that the glacier has a history of extremely rapid melting. This means that, while it is melting quickly now, it can melt even quicker, and that can start happening any day. With climate change causing the Earth to warm at an alarming rate, there is genuine concern about the state of the Thwaites.

Thwaites Glacier Overdue for a Rapid Melting Event

The University of Southern Florida College of Marine Science took a series of pictures of seafloor images, right where the glacier meets the floor. By studying ridgelines, they could graph periods of melting and cooling from the Thwaites Glacier’s past.

In the recent past, the Thwaites was documented to melt at its fastest between 2011 and 2019. But USF’s images show that, at some point in the last 200 years, it melted at a rate that was twice as fast. Worse, the melting occurred within a 6-month period. The Thwaites experienced over half a mile of melting in less than 6 months.

If that rate of melting occurs again, which it can, then the Thwaites will likely collapse. It could happen any day. Scientists are saying that the glacier is “hanging on by its fingernails.”

“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,” said Robert Larter, marine geophysicist and study co-author from the British Antarctic Survey.

The Thwaites Glacier is just under half a mile and ¾ of a mile deep at its grounding line, or where its shelf meets the surface of the ocean.

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