Scientists launch mission to explore Antarctica’s ‘doomsday’ glacier

A team of scientists is visiting “the most difficult places in the world” to better understand how much and how fast the oceans will rise due to global warming eating up Antarctica’s ice.

Thirty-two scientists are embarking on a more than two-month mission aboard a US research ship to investigate the critical area where the massive melting Thwaites Glacier faces the Amundsen Sea and could eventually lead to the loss of large amounts of ice due to warmer waters. Huh.

The Florida-sized glacier has earned the nickname “Doomsday Glacier” because of how much ice it holds and how much ocean can rise if it melts—more than two feet over hundreds of years.

Because of its importance, the US and UK are in the midst of a joint $50 million mission to study Thwaites, the world’s widest glacier by land and sea.

Not near any research stations on the continent, Thwaites is in the western half of Antarctica, jutting east of the Antarctic Peninsula, which worried scientists in the area most.

Anna Wahlin, an oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, said, “Thwaites is the main reason I would say there is such a great uncertainty in projections of future sea level rise and that is because it is a very remote region, as far as It’s hard to reach.” in Sweden.

Speaking to Research Vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, which was scheduled to leave its port in Chile a few hours later, he said: “It’s configured in a way that it’s potentially unstable. And that’s why we’re concerned about it.” “

Thwaites is putting about 50 billion tons of ice into the water a year.


A 2019 photo showing the hole in Thwaites Glacier (David Vaughan/British Antarctic Survey via AP)

The British Antarctic Survey says glaciers are responsible for 4% of global sea rise, and are accelerating to lose more ice because of it, University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos told McMurdo Land Station last month.

Oregon State University ice scientist Erin Petit said Thwaites is collapsing in three ways:

, Melting from below by sea water.

, The ground portion of the glacier is “losing its grip” at the point where it joins the ocean floor, so a large portion can descend into the ocean and melt later.

, The glacier’s ice shelf is breaking into hundreds of fractures like a damaged car windshield. That’s what Ms Petit said she fears the six-mile-long cracks in just one year will cause the most trouble.

No one has stepped over the major ice-water interface at Thwaites before. In 2019, Ms Wahlin was on a team that explored the area from a ship using a robotic ship, but never went ashore.

Ms. Wahlin’s team will use two robotic ships – her own larger one Rann which she used in 2019 and the more agile Boaty McBoatface, a crowdsourced drone that can sail over the Thwaites region that stretches over the ocean – To get to the bottom of the glacier.

Scientists aboard the ship will measure water temperature, sea level and ice thickness. They will see cracks in the ice, how the ice is structured and seal tags on islands far from the glacier.

Thwaites “looks different from other ice shelves”, Ms Wahlin said.

“It almost looks like a clump of icebergs that have been pressed together. So it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t a solid piece of ice like other ice shelves are, nice smooth solid ice. It’s a lot more jagged.” and was injured.”