So, the more the glacier melts, the more quickly the ice in it is likely to flow. Officially called the Thwaites Glacier, this mass of ice nestled into the western edge of Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate. The surface water in Antarctica is very cold, just above -2C degrees, the freezing point of salt water. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. "It'll be the most southerly jacuzzi in the world," jokes Paul Anker, a British Antarctic Survey drilling engineer. The so-called 'doomsday glacier' could trigger 10 feet of sea-level rise if it melts. Heat is energy, and energy drives the weather and ocean currents. This is where our changing climate comes in. The deep warm circumpolar water travels all the way around the continent but has been increasingly encroaching on the icy edge of West Antarctica. International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, A TO Z: Climate-related words and phrases explained. By then we have been joined by some of the scientists. Gravity means ice wants to be flat. Basically Thwaites glacier is right on the edge of collapse. (CNN)Deep channels discovered under the Antarctic's so-called "Doomsday glacier" may be allowing warm ocean water to melt the underside of ice, according to scientists collecting data from an area crucial to understanding sea-level rise. The high cliffs at the ice front of Thwaites Glacier, which accounts for about 4% of global sea-level rise. It blows huge drifts of snow into the camp, swamping the equipment, and all the work stops. Home Science Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier. Icefin, the robot submarine, has managed to make five missions, taking a host of measurements in the water beneath the glacier and recording some extraordinary images. A look at maps of the region’s ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a […] "I think this is a big step towards helping understand that," he added. Sea water is salty and dense which makes it heavy. Icefin is under almost half a mile (600m) of ice, at the front of one the fastest-changing large glaciers in the world. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. The ice in Antarctica holds 90% of the world's fresh water, and 80% of that ice is in the eastern part of the continent. Jordan said the next phase was to incorporate the data from the channels, some of them 2,600 feet (800 meters) deep, into simulations of how the ice sheet will respond into the future. Antarctica's Thwaites glacier is in peril, images reveal. Ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels are putting a lot more heat into the atmosphere and the oceans. I've been in Antarctica five weeks before I finally board the red British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter that takes me to the front of the glacier. The front of the glacier is almost 100 miles wide (160km) and is collapsing into the sea at up to two miles (3km) a year. It is a part of the Amundsen Sea, east of Mount Murphy, on the Walgreen Coast of Marie Byrd Land. "It is a feedback loop, a vicious cycle.". Thwaites and its neighbor, the Pine Island Glacier, are among those in West Antarctica most influenced by the climate crisis. Increase the amount of energy in the system, he says, and inevitably big global processes are going to change. The plane flies up over the camp and directly north, out towards the ocean. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. They need 10,000 litres of water, which means melting 10 tonnes of snow. .css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}The images are murky at first. A look at maps of the region's ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a geologist at Amherst College. Currently, Thwaites' ice loss contributes approximately 4% to the annual rise in global sea-levels, with the potential to add 65cm in total should the whole glacier collapse. According to the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, the amount of ice flowing out of the Thwaites and nearby glaciers has nearly doubled over the last 30 years. The higher the ice cliff, she says, the more "smooshing" the glacier wants to do. At its deepest point, the base of the glacier is more than a mile below sea level and there is another mile of ice on top of that. As we fly out over the front of the glacier, I realise with a shock just how fragile a fingerhold it is. Unlike the east it doesn't rest on high ground. But worse more, Thwaites glacier is stopping four other glaciers from collapsing. "The fear is these processes will just accelerate," she says. If they melted, they could destabilize the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has the potential to contribute about 10 feet to global sea level rise. But drilling a 30cm hole through almost half a mile of ice at the front of the most remote glacier in the world is not easy. By Justin RowlattChief Environment correspondent. We sit in the mess tent playing cards and drinking tea and the scientists discuss why the glacier is retreating so rapidly. We are told we cannot delay our flights off the continent any longer and must leave on the supply plane that is due to arrive at the camp in an hour or so. But understanding what is happening here is essential for scientists to be able to predict future sea level rise accurately. If you increase that to a metre then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade. The so-called Thwaites 'doomsday glacier' in Western Antarctica is the size of Britain and is known to be melting at an alarming rate. Thwaites Glacier is one of Antarctica’s largest contributors to sea level rise from Antarctica. 5 March 2020. It's a little smaller than Britain, so it's absolutely massive. It was tough going, the top speed was just 10mph. The scientists had told me that we had been camped on what is basically a small bay of ice protected by a horseshoe of raised ground. A team of drivers in specialist snow vehicles then dragged it more than a thousand miles across the ice sheet through some of the most inhospitable terrain and weather on earth. Evidence from other glaciers shows that if you increase the amount of warm water that is reaching the glacier the ice pump works much faster. Melt water is fresh and therefore relatively light. FOOD: What is your diet's carbon footprint? Understanding why it’s retreating so quickly has been a challenge, but glaciologists have recently discovered that the glacier is now generating its own seismic activity when it calves (breaks off … The team collected data from the glacier and adjoining Dotson and Crosson ice shelves from January to March 2019. Suddenly a shadow looms above, an overhanging cliff of dirt-encrusted ice. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. That is when the satellite phone call comes from the United States Antarctic Program HQ in McMurdo. A metre of sea level rise may not sound much, particularly when you consider that in some places the tide can rise and fall by three or four metres every day. The reason the scientists are so worried about Thwaites is because of that downward sloping submarine bed. .css-8h1dth-Link{font-family:ReithSans,Helvetica,Arial,freesans,sans-serif;font-weight:700;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;color:#FFFFFF;}.css-8h1dth-Link:hover,.css-8h1dth-Link:focus{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}Read about our approach to external linking. Then smaller planes - an elderly Dakota and a couple of Twin Otters - ferried the people and supplies on to the field camps, hundreds of miles down the glacier towards the sea. Its rate of loss has doubled in the past three decades, earning it the moniker “doomsday glacier.”. Thwaites Glacier), sometimes referred to as the Doomsday Glacier, is an unusually broad and vast Antarctic glacier flowing into the Pine Island Bay, part of the Amundsen Sea, east of Mount Murphy, on the Walgreen Coast of Marie Byrd Land Its surface speeds exceed 2 kilometres per year (1.2 miles per year) near its grounding line. Thwaites is not going to vanish overnight - the scientists say it will take decades, possibly more than a century. When the sea water is cold, this process is very slow, the ice pump usually just melts a few dozen centimetres a year - easily balanced by the new ice created by falling snow. Western Antarctica, however, is very different. If it weren't for the ice, it would be deep ocean with a few islands. They are almost half way down through the ice. Thwaites Glacier, known as the “Doomsday Glacier”, has caused alarm among scientists who warn that it is increasingly likely to live up to its nickname. It wants to "smoosh out," explains Dr Riverman. The ice is about -25C (-13F) so the hole is liable to freeze over and the whole process is dependent on the vagaries of the weather. The Thwaites Glacier is...a glacier. The surface area of each one gets bigger and bigger - providing ever more ice for the water to melt. The distances are so great they needed to set up another camp halfway down the glacier so the planes could refuel. In some places the great sheet of ice has broken up completely, collapsing into a jumble of massive icebergs which float in drunken chaos. The ice in East Antarctica is thick - more than a mile thick on average - but it rests on high ground and only creeps sluggishly to the sea. "Thwaites Glacier itself is probably one of the most significant glaciers in West Antarctica, because it's so large, because we can see it's changing today," Dr. Tom Jordan, an aero-geophysicist at BAS who led the airborne survey, told CNN. Studies have shown it is melting at an increasingly rapid pace , with potentially catastrophic effects. The glacier is roughly the size of Britain or Florida and already contributes to 4 per cent of sea-level rise each year. West Antarctica is the stormiest part of the world's stormiest continent. Additional research provided by Professor Andrew Shepherd, Leeds University. "When you think about it, we shouldn't be surprised by any of this," says Prof Vaughan as we are preparing to board the plane that will take us back to New Zealand and then home. They will use the hole to get access to the sea water that is melting the glacier to find out where it is from and why it is attacking the glacier so vigorously. As the glacier retreats back, yet more ice is exposed. It's been described as the "Doomsday" glacier … Doing science of this scale in such an extreme environment is not just about flying a few scientists to a remote location. Thwaites Glacier covers around 74,000 square miles and is particularly susceptible to climate and ocean changes. Thwaites' size and melt rate have led to it being dubbed the "Doomsday Glacier" What's likely to happen in the near future? Officially called the Thwaites … Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica's Doomsday Glacier - Flipboard It took more than a dozen flights by the US Antarctic programme's fleet of huge ski-equipped Hercules cargo planes just to get the scientists and some of their cargo to the project's main staging post in the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Dr Kiya Riverman, a glaciologist at the University of Oregon, drills down with an ice auger - a large spiral stainless-steel drill bit - and sets small explosive charges. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. There is no mistaking the epic forces at work here, slowly tearing, ripping and shattering the ice. Antarctic storms can be very intense. A look at maps of the region’s ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a geologist at Amherst College. - Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. It doesn't look like much, but this is a unique image - the first ever pictures from a frontier that is changing our world. At the moment, the eastern side of the ice shelf is … What appears to be happening is that deep warm ocean water is flowing to the coast and down to the ice front, melting the glacier. There is enough water locked up in it to raise world sea level by more than half a metre. But warm water transforms the process, according to the scientists. If the glacier were to melt, it would drain a mass of water the size of Great Britain. Snow on the ice runway delays my flight from New Zealand to McMurdo, the main US research station in Antarctica. … I camped on the ice for a month, some of the scientists will be out there for far longer, two months or more. The principle is simple - you heat the water with a bank of boilers to just below boiling point and then spray it onto the ice, melting your way down. I quickly discover why as I try to get there myself. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. For starters, its density contains two-feet of potential sea level. It is very frustrating to be forced to leave before the hole is finished and the instruments have been deployed, especially given how long it took to get here. It already accounts for 4% of world sea level rise each year - a huge figure for a single glacier - and satellite data show that it is melting increasingly rapidly. Icefin has reached the point at which the warm ocean water meets the wall of ice at the front of the mighty Thwaites glacier - the point where this vast body of ice begins to melt. The glacier holds two feet of sea level but more importantly, it is the "backstop" for four other glaciers which holds an additional 10 to 13 feet of sea level rise. Thwaites glacier is larger the England and could drive global sea levels up by two feet (60cm) if it were to totally collapse. They want to drill down through almost half a mile of ice right at the point where the glacier goes afloat. The scale is staggering and explains why Thwaites is already such an important component of world sea level rise, but I am shocked to discover there is another process that could accelerate its retreat even more. A view of the sea ice from the Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker on the way to Thwaites Glacier. Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier has been called the "Doomsday Glacier." © 2020 BBC. In other words, if Thwaites glacier melts, two feet is immediately added to the ocean’s sea levels.
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