Antarctica’s Most Dangerous “Doomsday Glacier” Is Melting Faster from Warmer Water Below.

 

“These were the first measurements ever performed beneath the ice front of Thwaites glacier. Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

— Anna Wahlin,  Ph.D., Professor of Oceanography, Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, and Lead Author of Ran polar submarine’s first exploration beneath Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier”

 

The Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel sits in the water by the huge Thwaites. 1919 photo by Aleksandra Mazur. Click to enlarge.
The Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel sits in the water by the huge Thwaites glacier, the size of Florida or Great Britain. At its current ice melt rate, Thwaites Glacier by itself accounts for 4% of the world’s sea level rise each year. Photo by Aleksandra Mazur, 1919.  Click to enlarge.

 

April 10, 2021 University of Gothenburg, SwedenThe whole ice sheet of West Antarctica accounts for about 10% of the current rate of worldwide sea level rise. One of its biggest glaciers is the Thwaites Glacier, which by itself at its current ice melt rate accounts for 4% of sea level rise in the world each year.  It’s also known as the “Doomsday Glacier” because it now has 74,000 square miles of ice,  the size of Florida or Great Britain, that averages 2,000 feet deep.

Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica on the Southern Ocean has 2,000 feet of ice extending down to the sea floor where scientists want to measure the water temperatures to see what the likelihood is that the huge "Doomsday Glacier" is now in danger of accelerated ice melt rates as three channels of warm water swirl around under the Florida-sized thick glacier. Image 2020 by NASA/OIB/Jeremy Harbeck.
Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica on the Southern Ocean has 2,000 feet of ice extending down to the sea floor where scientists want to measure the water temperatures to see what the likelihood is that the huge “Doomsday Glacier” is now in danger of accelerated ice melt rates as three channels of warm water swirl around under the Florida-sized thick glacier. Image 2020 by NASA/OIB/Jeremy Harbeck.

 

It has been melting at the rate of 50 billion tons of ice per year going into the Southern Ocean. Now at the newly measured rate the warm water below Thwaites is melting the massive, thick glacier even faster and some computer models project if Thwaites glacier completely melted into the Southern Ocean, it could raise sea level 12 feet!

Thwaites Glacier is considered by several marine scientists to be the "most vulnerable place in Antarctica" for accelerated melt, disintegration and greater sea level rise. Map by Steven Bernard, Quantarctica and Norwegian Polar Institute.
Thwaites Glacier is considered by several marine scientists to be the “most vulnerable place in Antarctica” for accelerated melt, disintegration and greater sea level rise. Map by Steven Bernard, Quantarctica and Norwegian Polar Institute. Click to enlarge.

Now, for the first time, a remote robot submarine, Ran, has made high-resolution maps beneath Thwaite for the research project of Anna Wahlin,  Ph.D., Professor of Oceanography, Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, and Lead Author of Ran polar submarine’s first exploration beneath Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier.”

"Ran" robotic submarine used by Prof. Anna Wahlin, Ph.D., Oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, to do the first mapping and measurements beneath the Florida or U. K.-size deep glacier in Western Antarctica on the Southern Ocean. Image by Filip Stedt.
Above:  “Ran” robotic submarine used by Prof. Anna Wahlin, Ph.D., Oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, to do the first mapping and measurements beneath the deep glacier the size of Florida or the U. K. in Western Antarctica on the Southern Ocean. Image by Filip Stedt.   Below:  “Icefin” robotic submarine in January 2020, recorded the first creatures seen living in the waters beneath the huge glacier. Video by Icefin/ITGC_Melt/BESchmidt

 

 

The “Ran” robotic submarine has now confirmed  three different channels carrying warmer water towards Thwaites Glacier.  Variations in salinity, temperature and oxygen content indicate that the area under the glacier is a previously unknown active area where different water masses meet and mix with each other, which is important for understanding the melting processes at the base of the ice. See the April 10, 2021 journal Science Advances for paper in Websites below.

“The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren’t known to us before the research. Using sonars on the ship, nested with very high-resolution ocean mapping from Ran, we were able to find that there are distinct paths that water takes in and out of the ice shelf cavity, influenced by the geometry of the ocean floor,” says Dr. Alastair Graham, from the University of Southern Florida.

Also see:

NOAA Sea Level Rise Interactive Viewer:  https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/#/layer/slr


More Information:

Websites:

Science Advances, April 9, 2021:  Pathways and modification of warm water flowing beneath Thwaites Ice Shelf, West Antarctica:”  https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/15/eabd7254.full

“‘Glacier of the Last Judgment’ is analyzed by submarine for the first time and result worries,” April 9, 2021, Olhar Digitalhttps://olhardigital.com.br/en/2021/04/09/science-and-space/glacier-of-the-final-judgment-is-analyzed-by-submarine-for-the-first-time-and-result-worries/

“Exploration of ocean currents beneath the ‘Doomsday Glacier,’ April 9, 2021, AAAS Eureka Alert:  https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/uog-eoo040821.php


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