June 14, 2024 at 3:31 pm

Scientists Are Warning That Warm Water Is Rushing Under A “Doomsday” Glacier

by Trisha Leigh

Source: NASA/Public Domain

Climate change is no longer coming from somewhere over the horizon – it’s here, and it’s affecting our everyday life.

Now, scientists are warning that one of the “doomsday” glaciers is slowly filling up with warm water.

The glacier in question is the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica – the “Doomsday Glacier” – and if it were to melt, scientists believe it could raise sea levels by more than two feet worldwide.

New research indicates things are moving in that direction, with warm ocean water running miles beneath it and making melting a real (and almost immediate) concern.

It also calls into question the assumption that the boundary where the glacier and seafloor meet is fixed.

Source: European Space Agency/Wikipedia

Study co-author Eric Rignot explains why it’s such a surprise.

“The water is able to penetrate beneath the ice over much longer distances than we thought. It’s kind of sending a shock wave down our spine to see that water moving kilometers.”

The Thwaites is nearly 74,000 square miles in area, or around the size of Florida. It’s the largest glacier in the world, yet still vulnerable to the warming climate.

Researchers are using satellites called ICEYE that are in orbit above the polar caps to gather data. It has allowed them to create a 3D view of all the tidal forces at play around and beneath the ice sheet.

It also illuminated the grounding line, a region where the glacier’s ice is no longer in contact with the seafloor and therefore exposed to ocean water.

Normally, the ice beneath the grounding line should be protected from ocean water. Researchers found that when the high tides come in and lift Thwaites a few centimeters, warm ocean water forces its way beneath the glacier and exposes vast amounts of ice once thought impervious to warming.

The speed of the rushing seawater is also a concern; it’s traveling almost four miles in a 12-hour cycle and flushing out any freshwater that’s melted in the process.

Source: Wolovick2023

Saltwater has a lower freezing point.

“This process of widespread, enormous seawater intrusion will increase the projections of sea level rise from Antarctica.”

The findings are distressing, and will certainly increase the calls to insulate the Thwaites glacier somehow.

I’m not sure the scientific community can really scream any louder, though.

If you thought that was interesting, you might like to read about why we should be worried about the leak in the bottom of the ocean.