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‘Doomsday Glacier’ melting at an alarming rate. Scientists now know why

‘Doomsday Glacier’ melting at an alarming rate. Scientists now know why

Image source: © Wikipedia
Natalia Witulska,
04.03.2024 17:00

The Thwaites Glacier, also known as the 'Doomsday Glacier', has been given a terrifying nickname due to its fast melting rate. Researchers have now identified the cause of this phenomenon and warn about the consequences associated with the glacier's disappearance for humanity.

The Thwaites Glacier, a massive ice sheet in West Antarctica, is as large as the Baltic States or over half of Poland. Its height is comparable to that of a six-story building. Unfortunately, this glacier, also known as the ‘Doomsday Glacier’, is regularly subjected to ocean water erosion, causing it to gradually disintegrate and melt at an alarming rate.

Scientists have recently published an interesting article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlining their discovery of the reasons behind the accelerated melting of this glacier.

'Doomsday Glacier': A threat to the world

The Thwaites Glacier poses a significant threat due to its rapid melting. If it disappears suddenly, it could lead to a catastrophic rise in sea and ocean levels. The glacier has a surface area of 190,000 square kilometres. Its sudden disappearance could cause all the oceans to rise by as much as 65 cm.

Scientists have been closely monitoring a glacier and have recently conducted a study that has revealed new information. Previously, it was known that a large portion of the glacier had been melting rapidly since the 1970s, but the satellite data only provided a few decades' worth of information. This made it difficult to determine when exactly the melting had started.

However, by analysing sediment cores from beneath the ocean floor, scientists have discovered that the glacier began melting at an accelerated rate as early as the 1940s. They believe this coincided with a strong El Niño event, a periodic disturbance of the Earth's thermal balance. This event likely contributed to the acceleration of the glacier's melting.

"It’s sort of like if you get kicked when you’re already sick, it’s going to have a much bigger impact," Julia Wellner, an associate professor of geology at the University of Houston, told the media.

‘Doomsday Glacier’ shows no signs of recovery

Unfortunately, scientists have also discovered that since the glacier has started to melt faster than it used to, it is unable to recover. According to experts, this clearly shows the increasing impact of human-caused global warming, CNN reports.

In addition, they stress that what happens to the glacier can affect the whole world. The Thwaites Glacier already contributes 4% of sea level rise as it sheds billions of tonnes of ice into the ocean annually. The vast stretch of ice sheet also plays a significant role in the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

As Rzeczpospolita reports, the ‘Doomsday Glacier’ acts as a cork that blocks the vast stretch of ice behind it. Its melting would significantly reduce the ice sheet's stability, which contains enough water to raise sea levels by at least three metres.

A threat to our world

Scientists warn that their latest findings should be a cause for concern for everyone. They explain that once significant changes are set in motion, it is extremely challenging to halt them. Although the 'Doomsday Glacier' has melted rapidly in the past, the ice sheet has managed to recover and regrow.

"This glacier shows no signs of recovery, which likely reflects the growing influence of human-caused climate change," said James Smith, a marine geologist at the British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the study, in an interview with CNN.

The authors of the study also emphasise that the glacier is unstable and highly vulnerable. Even minor events can affect its rapid melting.

"If a glacier is in a sensitive state, a single event can knock it into a retreat from which it is difficult to recover. Humans are changing the climate and this study shows that small continuous changes in climate can lead to step changes in glacier state," reads the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: geekweek.interia.pl, Rzeczpospolita, CNN

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