The Thwaites Glacier, nicknamed the “doomsday” glacier, is losing ice at a rate not seen in more than 5,500 years, according to a new study, raising concerns about the Florida-sized glacier’s future and the rise of the global sea level.
The glacier has become a focal point on the long list of natural features threatened by a warming climate, thus the nickname it was given when it was announced in January 2020 that warm water was present underneath the 74,000-square-mile glacier located in West Antarctica .
The new dangers facing the glacier were highlighted in a peer-reviewed study published on Thursday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Researchers came to their conclusion by analyzing prehistoric seashells and penguin bones on arctic beaches through radiocarbon dating. These fossils, which were more than 5,000 years old, were around when Earth was much warmer than present day, even with today’s rising global temperatures. Through this process, researchers could figure out when these beaches arose and the local sea level around them.
The results showed the glacier had begun to lose ice at a steady pace in that time frame roughly 5,000 years ago, with a local sea level rising rate of 0.14 inches per year. However, in the past 30 years, that rate has increased to 1.57 inches per year, a pace not seen in 5,500 years.
“These currently elevated rates of ice melting may signal that those vital arteries from the heart of the (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) have been ruptured, leading to accelerating flow into the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea level in a warming world, ” Dylan Rood, co-author and faculty of engineering at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
The glacier is already contributing to the sea level rise, as ice draining from it into the Amundsen Sea already accounts for about 4% of global sea-level rise, according to the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.
The loss of ice comes a few months after another group of researchers said the eastern ice shelf holding the “doomsday” glacier in place has cracks that could result in its collapse in the next three to five years, exposing it to ocean water and leading to eventual cliff breakoffs.
Collapse: Ice shelf collapses in East Antarctica for first time in human history. It’s the size of New York City.
‘Not a good sign’: The temperature was 70 degrees above average near South Pole, a troubling record
The eventual demise of the glacier could result in global sea levels rising up to a foot in the next century, scientists with the American Geophysical Union said in December, threatening numerous coastal cities around the world.
Researchers aren’t giving up hope; they said they will be drilling through the glacier to collect rock underneath it, which could determine if the accelerated melting could be reversed or not.
“We now urgently need to work out if it’s too late to stop the bleeding,” Rood said.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
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