Melting speed of Doomsday glacier due to warm seawater: experts

For the first time, there is evidence of warm seawater pumping beneath Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier – ominously nicknamed the Doomsday Glacier.

An international team of scientists, including a University of Waterloo researcher, observed it using satellite images and warned that it could accelerate catastrophic sea-level rise within 10 to 20 years.

The intrusion of seawater causes the ice sheets to constantly lift off the land and settle back down. The ice melts violently when it first touches seawater, and as the Thwaites Glacier is 120 kilometers wide and 1.2 kilometers deep, this effect could lead to catastrophic sea levels. The glacier is located in a basin. To date, sea water has only touched its edge. But the researchers predict that it may take only 10 to 20 years for the glacier to retreat to the deeper part of the basin, during which time glacier melting will accelerate.

„Thwaites is the most unstable place in the Antarctic and has the equivalent of 60 centimeters of sea level rise,” said Dr. Christine Dow said. . „The concern is that we are underestimating the speed at which the glacier is changing, which could be catastrophic for coastal communities around the world.”

The world is already feeling the social and economic consequences of two centimeters of sea level rise. However, the researchers note that an additional half meter or more of sea level rise would severely affect populations in many low-lying areas such as Vancouver, Florida, Bangladesh, and low-lying Pacific islands such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

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The researchers used ICEYE DINSAR satellite data and sub-glacial water modeling to determine seawater intrusion and its impacts. Dow and his team at Waterloo are currently working on developing new models that take into account the effects of basin-flowing seawater and sub-glacial water outflow and mixing with seawater to accurately predict how fast the glacier will melt.

„We don’t have enough information at this point to say one way or the other how much time there is before seawater intrusion,” said Dow, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Glacier Hydrology and Ice Dynamics. „By improving models and focusing our research on these important glaciers, we will try to match sea-level rise estimates for at least decades and even centuries. This work will focus on reducing carbon emissions and help people adapt to sea-level change. Prevent the worst-case scenario.”

Dr. Eric Rignot, a professor of geosystems sciences at the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine), believes the results will provide more support for research to study changes occurring beneath the ice caps in Antarctica.

„There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the scientific community to go to these remote, polar regions and collect data and build our understanding of what’s going on, but the funding has lagged behind,” said Rignot, who is affiliated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. California Institute of Technology. „We’re operating in 2024 on the same budget as in the 1990s. We need to quickly build a community of glaciologists and physical oceanographers to solve these observational problems, but now we’re trying to climb Mount Everest. In tennis shoes.”

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Dow and Rignot collaborated with researchers from UC Irvine and ICEYE. The study, Pervasive seawater intrusions beneath the ground ice of West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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