Warm Seawater is Melting the “Doomsday Glacier” Faster Than Expected

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The Thwaites Glacier, ominously nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier,” is melting faster than scientists predicted.

This rapid melting is largely due to the warm seawater flowing beneath it, a factor previously underestimated.

Why Thwaites Glacier Matters

The Thwaites Glacier, located in West Antarctica, is crucial because its melting could lead to a significant rise in sea levels.

The glacier spans 120 kilometers (75 miles) where it meets the ocean. Warming air and seawater are already causing it to melt from above and in front.

However, the most alarming discovery is the warm water getting underneath the glacier, accelerating the melting process.

Tidal Forces at Play

Recent observations by Professor Christine Dow from the University of Waterloo and her team show that tides are pushing warm water under the glacier.

This process is lifting the glacier off the seabed daily and then allowing it to settle back down, repeating with each tide.

During extreme tidal conditions, this effect can extend up to six kilometers beneath the glacier, increasing the melting rate.

The Race Against Time

The basin under the Thwaites Glacier has two critical ridges that currently slow down the melting.

Once these ridges are breached, the melting will speed up dramatically.

Dow and her colleagues estimate this could happen in the next 10-20 years, leading to a significant rise in sea levels.

Potential Global Impact

If the Thwaites Glacier melts as predicted, it could raise sea levels by 60 centimeters (24 inches).

This would have devastating effects on coastal communities worldwide.

Wealthier areas might build defenses like dykes or tidal barriers, but many regions could see homes and farmland submerged.

Seeking Solutions

Dow and her team are working to refine models to predict when these events might occur.

More precise data on how water flows beneath the glacier and how it mixes with saltwater is needed.

However, current funding for Antarctic research is inadequate, making it challenging to gather the necessary data.

Lead author Professor Eric Rignot from the University of California, Irvine, highlighted the funding issue, noting that their budget hasn’t increased in real terms since the 1990s.

He emphasized the need for more glaciologists and oceanographers to address these critical observation gaps.

In summary, the Thwaites Glacier’s accelerated melting due to tidal forces and warm seawater could lead to a much faster rise in sea levels than previously anticipated, posing a severe threat to coastal communities worldwide.


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