Antarctica Doomsday Glacier close to collapse: the apocalyptic effects

Thwaites, an Antarctic glacier the size of the UK, is rapidly deteriorating to the point of collapse

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Antarctica Doomsday Glacier close to collapse: the apocalyptic effects

Thwaites, an Antarctic glacier the size of the UK, is rapidly deteriorating to the point of collapse. If it were to melt, the consequences could show apocalyptic scenarios, especially for the populations living on the coasts of the world.

On the Nature magazine, the scientists describe what the Icefin robot and other tools have discovered under all that ice. After being lowered through a borehole by means of warm water, the torpedo-shaped machine collected the data and, above all, imaged the vulnerable center of the glacier which is in fact rapidly deteriorating and, if it were to collapse, the global level of the sea could increase of more than 30 cm.

According to models of future sea level rise, the portion of Thwaites that floats on the ocean would have a relatively plain and flat underside. However, Icefin has found that 10% have a much more complex conformation. Thwaites' risk of melting is not due to rising atmospheric temperatures, but rather to rising ocean temperatures.

Since the late 1990s, the glacier's waterline has retreated about 16 kilometers inland, meaning that more of the ice is now in contact with warm salt water.

Antarctica Doomsday Glacier close to collapse: the apocalyptic effects

Britney Schmidt, a planetary and Earth scientist at Cornell University who leads the Icefin project, explained: "What we know about Thwaites is that it is falling apart.

and destabilize the entire ice shelf. What we are showing is how the ocean plugs into these weak spots and kind of makes it worse. We seem to be saying that the melting is less than in the past, but not that's it." British Antarctic Survey physical oceanographer Peter Davis, added: "We saw that the ice base was very complex in its topography, with many stairs, terraces, rifts and crevices.

The rate of melt on the different surfaces was very different. If you create of features under the ice, there will be similar reflections at the surface due to the way the ice floats, so the fear is that if these cracks and fissures under the ice widen the ice shelf could destabilize, which it could lead to more disintegration over time.

What it shows us is that, first, perhaps it is easier to throw these systems off balance. We used to associate rapid withdrawal with rapid dissolution. I think the findings show us that you don't need a quick unwind to bring about the pullback.

What is needed instead is a change in the unwind. So something is needed that unbalances the system." Photo Credits: Rob Robbins USAP