The British-sized Thwaites Glacier is located in western Antarctica and is melting at an enormous rate: it is shrinking by about 700-800 meters per year. Researchers predict that the Doomsday Glacier will lose all of its ice in about 200 to 600 years. When this happens, the sea level will rise by about half a meter.
But the consequences of rising sea levels will not end, but only begin. All references to the glacier are more likely to be related to what will happen after it melts. Now the Doomsday Glacier plays the role of a buffer between the heated ocean and other glaciers. Its disappearance will lead to the fall of neighboring glaciers in western Antarctica. This whole process will raise sea levels by almost 3 meters, completely flooding many coastal areas, including New York, Miami and the Netherlands.
“This major change is completely reshaping the coastline,” says David Holland, professor of atmospheric science at New York University who is part of the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration International.
Recent studies have added anxiety to an already deplorable picture. A scientific article published in the journal Cryosphere claims that warm ocean currents can undermine the lower part of the Thwaites Glacier. Satellite imagery was used as an argument, confirming that sections of Thwaites and neighboring Pine Island Glacier are disappearing faster than previously thought. This is not surprising, since every year the Arctic temperatures break records and continue to grow.
The melting of the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers is already responsible for about 5 percent of global sea level rise. It’s not just the Doomsday Glacier that’s the problem: the Antarctic ice sheet is melting six times faster than it was 40 years ago. It loses 252 billion tons of ice annually, up from 40 billion in 1980. Scientists estimate that if all of the Antarctic ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by 60 meters.
The looming global problem is so worrisome that the US and UK have set up an international agency to study Thwaites Glacier. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is exploring the glacier with icebreakers capable of breaking through thick ice sheets. See also: The last intact ice shelf in the world collapsed.
In February 2020, a small city-sized cavity was discovered on the underside of Thwaites. NASA scientists found it with a probe and calculated that it could contain 14 billion tons of ice. When the ice sheets melt from below, they lose their shape much faster, which is what happens with the Doomsday Glacier.
According to a 2018 report, sea level rise could affect up to 800 million people by 2050.