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. Thwaites Glacier, sometimes referred to as the Doomsday Glacier is an unusually broad and vast Antarctic glacier flowing into the Pine Island Bay. By Justin RowlattChief Environment correspondent. But warm water transforms the process, according to the scientists. Thwaites Glacier covers around 74,000 square miles and is particularly susceptible to climate and ocean changes. I was supposed to leave Antarctica at the end of December but all the delays mean the drilling only begins on 7 January. The high cliffs at the ice front of Thwaites Glacier, which accounts for about 4% of global sea-level rise. 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. Images show massive Antarctic change in just 9 days, Greenland's ice sheet melted faster than ever before in 2019, study says. Read about our approach to external linking. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. 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. Thwaites' size and melt rate have led to it being dubbed the "Doomsday Glacier" What's likely to happen in the near future? 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. "I think this is a big step towards helping understand that," he added. There is enough water locked up in it to raise world sea level by more than half a metre. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. FOOD: What is your diet's carbon footprint? International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, A TO Z: Climate-related words and phrases explained. Officially called the Thwaites Glacier, this mass of ice nestled into the western edge of Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate. Antarctic storms can be very intense. "It is a feedback loop, a vicious cycle.". The so-called Thwaites 'doomsday glacier' in Western Antarctica is the size of Britain and is known to be melting at an alarming rate. The find was made possible thanks to an underwater robot called Icefin, which headed more than 700 metres below the ice of the Thwaites Glacier. No-one has ever done that on a glacier this big and dynamic. All the delays mean there are just a few weeks of the Antarctic summer left before the weather starts to get really bad. As the members of the drilling team set up their equipment, I help out with a seismic survey of the bed beneath the glacier. Thwaites Glacier is one of Antarctica’s largest contributors to sea level rise from Antarctica. 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. "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. 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. Ice draining from the gigantic Thwaites Glacier into the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica already accounts for about 4% of global sea-level rise, and scientists say it is highly susceptible to climate change. 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. If you increase that to a metre then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade. The Thwaites Glacier is one of Antarctica's fastest melting glaciers. The approaching loss of the Thwaites Glacier is troubling to such an extent that the US and UK made a worldwide office to examine it. 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. We sit in the mess tent playing cards and drinking tea and the scientists discuss why the glacier is retreating so 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. They are almost half way down through the ice. "And also, we know that its bed dips down, and it gets deeper and deeper underneath the ice sheet, which means that, theoretically, you can get a process called marine ice sheet instability. 5 March 2020. Gravity means ice wants to be flat. 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. Elsewhere, there are cliffs of ice, some of which rise up almost a mile from the sea bed. And once it starts to retreat, it will just keep retreating.". Home Science Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier. This video on the doomsday glacier explains why. Western Antarctica, however, is very different. As the front of the glacier melts, the weight of the vast reservoir of ice behind it pushes forward. 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. It is not unusual to have hurricane force winds as well as very low temperatures. Sea water is salty and dense which makes it heavy. 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. (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. Only four people have ever been on the front of the glacier before and they were the advance party for this year's work. Thwaites Glacier, a huge glacier in the Antarctic, is often called the Doomsday Glacier. 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. "It can set glaciers on fire," says Prof Holland, "increasing melt rates by as much as a hundred-fold.". 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. 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. By then we have been joined by some of the scientists. I look back and see the wheel at the top of the drill turning, the black hose spooling out steadily. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. As the glacier retreats back, yet more ice is exposed. Here it becomes part of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, flowing deep - a third of a mile (530m) - below a layer of much colder water. They need 10,000 litres of water, which means melting 10 tonnes of snow. The key is the warm seawater, which originates on the other side of the world. They need tonnes of specialist equipment and tens of thousands of litres of fuel, as well as tents and other camping supplies and food. Thwaites is not going to vanish overnight - the scientists say it will take decades, possibly more than a century. They say what is happening here is down to the complex interplay of climate, weather and ocean currents. Glaciers are huge sheets of ice moving very slowly, and contain vast amounts of water. This water is salty, which makes it relatively heavy, but is still a degree or two above freezing. 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. Once scientists can demonstrate the expected sea-level rise relating to West Antarctica, he said, they will have more evidence when calling for action to mitigate climate change. Over the past three decades, the rate of ice loss from Thwaites, which is about the size of Great Britain or the US state of Florida, and its neighboring glaciers has increased more than five-fold. It is smaller but still huge, and is much more vulnerable to change. "They already have in the Arctic," says Prof Vaughan with a sigh. It's a little smaller than Britain, so it's absolutely massive. Antarctica's Thwaites glacier is in peril, images reveal. If the glacier were to melt, it would drain a mass of water the size of Great Britain. By early January, the flubber is full and all the equipment is ready but then we get a warning that yet another storm is on its way. 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. Everyone sets to work with spades, hefting snow into the "flubber" - a rubber container the size of a small swimming pool. The surface area of each one gets bigger and bigger - providing ever more ice for the water to melt. 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 … In some places the great sheet of ice has broken up completely, collapsing into a jumble of massive icebergs which float in drunken chaos. 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. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. The reason the scientists are so worried about Thwaites is because of that downward sloping submarine bed. And when it does collapse, it could trigger the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet also. "The deep Antarctic circumpolar water is only a handful of degrees warmer than the water above it - a degree or two above 0C - but that's warm enough to light this glacier up," says David Holland, an oceanographer with New York University and one of the lead scientists at the grounding zone camp. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. As the glacier melts, the fresh water therefore tends to flow upwards, drawing up the heavier warmer sea water behind it. The team collected data from the glacier and adjoining Dotson and Crosson ice shelves from January to March 2019. 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. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. Hits: 3. The Icefin team, along with 40 or so other scientists, are part of the .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link{color:#3F3F42;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{color:#696969;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{font-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{border-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;}@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em){.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{border-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;}}International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a five-year, $50m (£38m) joint UK-US effort to understand why it is changing so rapidly. "The fear is these processes will just accelerate," she says. In other words, if Thwaites glacier melts, two feet is immediately added to the ocean’s sea levels. The US research ship at the ice front, in a photo captured from a drone. A look at maps of the region's ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a geologist at Amherst College. The British Antarctic Survey's contribution was an epic overland journey that brought in hundreds of tonnes of fuel and cargo. 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. The small plane takes us to the camp in the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet but more bad weather means more delays and it is nine days before a Hercules comes to take us back to McMurdo. The scientists say the Pacific Ocean is warming up and that is shifting wind patterns off the coast of West Antarctica, allowing the warm deep water to well up over the continental shelf. Thwaites glacier is larger the England and could drive global sea levels up by two feet (60cm) if it were to totally collapse. If Thwaites were to collapse, it could lead to an increase in sea levels of around 25 inches (64 centimeters) -- and the researchers are trying to find out how soon this is likely to happen. Some go so far as to term it the Doomsday glacier. Studies have shown it is melting at an increasingly rapid pace , with potentially catastrophic effects. For starters, its density contains two-feet of potential sea level. This is the first of a whole catalogue of delays and disruptions. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. - Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. 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. Unlike the east it doesn't rest on high ground. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. Basically Thwaites glacier is right on the edge of collapse. "At the end, we will be able to say to governments and policy-makers, this is what's going to happen ... we will actually have a proper, well-constrained estimate of what's going to happen to Thwaites Glacier," said Jordan. Additional research provided by Professor Andrew Shepherd, Leeds University. West Antarctica is the stormiest part of the world's stormiest continent. Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier has been called the "Doomsday Glacier." © 2020 BBC. But worse more, Thwaites glacier is stopping four other glaciers from collapsing. Jordan said that suggestions of geoengineering and blocking the channels is not logistically feasible at such a remote site. Scientists from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) collected data by flying over the glacier in a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Twin Otter aircraft and mapping the sea floor from the US Antarctic Program icebreaker RV Nathaniel B. Palmer. Two ice-hardened ships docked alongside an ice cliff at the foot of the Antarctic Peninsula during the last Antarctic summer. The Thwaites Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in Antarctica, and it is melting at an alarming rate. You may be surprised that so little is known about such an important glacier - I certainly was when I was invited to cover the work of the team. The higher the ice cliff, she says, the more "smooshing" the glacier wants to do. Officially called the Thwaites Glacier, this mass of ice nestled into the western edge of Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate. … It takes the science teams weeks just to get to their field camps. The Thwaites Glacier, located in West Antarctica, has been called the ‘doomsday’ glacier and ‘the most important glacier’ in the world according to a group of scientists from the U.S. and UK. The so-called 'doomsday glacier' could trigger 10 feet of sea-level rise if it melts. 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. Glaciers everywhere might be melting, but only one has earned the most terrifying nickname: the Doomsday Glacier. EARTH'S most dangerous chunk of ice is probably the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica – so at risk it's called the "Doomsday Glacier". It is a part of the Amundsen Sea, east of Mount Murphy, on the Walgreen Coast of Marie Byrd Land. That association, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, examines the glacier by means of icebreaker sends that can get through thick ice sheets. Exceptional sea-ice break up in early 2019 enabled the icebreaker to survey more than 2,000 square kilometers of sea floor at the glacier's ice front. Melt water is fresh and therefore relatively light. "It'll be the most southerly jacuzzi in the world," jokes Paul Anker, a British Antarctic Survey drilling engineer. 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. Sediment sweeps past the camera as Icefin, a bright yellow remotely operated robot submarine, moves tentatively forward under the ice. It's been described as 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. The rest of us dig holes in the ice for the "georods" and "geophones" - the electronic ears that listen to the echo of the blast that bounces back from the bedrock through the layers of water and ice. A view of the sea ice from the Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker on the way to Thwaites Glacier. Before now, he said, the ITGC has not been able to precisely quantify sea-level rise in West Antarctica "because there was so much uncertainty about understanding the ice sheet processes and how the glaciers will over time respond.". It means the glacier gets thicker and thicker as you go inland. It will take years to process all the information the team has gathered and incorporate the findings into the models that are used to project future sea level rise. The distances are so great they needed to set up another camp halfway down the glacier so the planes could refuel. In fact, virtually the whole bed is way below sea level. Yet, until this year, no-one has attempted a large-scale scientific survey on the glacier. I will be camping with the team at what is known as the grounding zone. They are camped on the ice above the point where the glacier meets the ocean water, and have the most ambitious task of all. It wants to "smoosh out," explains Dr Riverman. 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 cavities hidden beneath the ice shelf are likely to be the route through which warm ocean water passes underneath the ice shelf up to the grounding line, they said. 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 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. Snow on the ice runway delays my flight from New Zealand to McMurdo, the main US research station in Antarctica. Increase the amount of energy in the system, he says, and inevitably big global processes are going to change. A massive one that poses such risk it's been branded the 'Doomsday Glacier". This is where our changing climate comes in. The plane flies up over the camp and directly north, out towards the ocean. ‘Teetering at the edge’: Scientists warn of rapid melting of Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday glacier’ Thwaites glacier is losing ice at an accelerating rate, threatening catastrophic sea-level rise. It is a bit like cutting slices from the sharp end of a wedge of cheese. And Thwaites sits like a keystone right in the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - a vast basin of ice that contains more than 3m of additional potential sea level rise. The glacier is roughly the size of Britain or Florida and already contributes to 4 per cent of sea-level rise each year. A look at maps of the region’s ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a geologist at Amherst College. November 13, 2020 admin Science 0. They have confirmed that the deep circumpolar warm water is getting under the glacier and have collected huge amounts of data. 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. It was tough going, the top speed was just 10mph. Doing science of this scale in such an extreme environment is not just about flying a few scientists to a remote location. 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. The surface water in Antarctica is very cold, just above -2C degrees, the freezing point of salt water. Officially called the Thwaites … Why Scientists Are So Worried About Antarctica's Doomsday Glacier - Flipboard .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. I camped on the ice for a month, some of the scientists will be out there for far longer, two months or more. "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. The project represents the biggest and most complex scientific field programme in Antarctic history. That is when the satellite phone call comes from the United States Antarctic Program HQ in McMurdo. At one stage, the entire season's research is on the point of being cancelled because storms stop all flights to West Antarctica from McMurdo for 17 consecutive days. Thwaites and its neighbor, the Pine Island Glacier, are among those in West Antarctica most influenced by the climate crisis. 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. The area surveyed had been hidden beneath part of the floating ice shelf extending from Thwaites Glacier, which broke off in 2002, and was then often inaccessible due to thick sea-ice cover. This heavy salty water is carried by a deep ocean current called the Atlantic conveyor all the way down to the south Atlantic. Heat is energy, and energy drives the weather and ocean currents. Officially called the Thwaites Glacier, this mass of ice nestled into the western edge of Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate. Suddenly a shadow looms above, an overhanging cliff of dirt-encrusted ice. 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. Some of it has been around for millions of years. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. .css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}The images are murky at first. The deep warm circumpolar water travels all the way around the continent but has been increasingly encroaching on the icy edge of West Antarctica. This one is relatively mild for Antarctica but still involves three days of wind gusting up to 50mph. Icefin is under almost half a mile (600m) of ice, at the front of one the fastest-changing large glaciers in the world. The scientists at the grounding zone camp plan to use hot water to drill their hole through the ice. Most glaciers that flow into the sea have what is known as an "ice pump". As we fly out over the front of the glacier, I realise with a shock just how fragile a fingerhold it is. Thwaites Glacier – what is it and why should we care? That's worrying news for coastal cities. "What we are seeing here in the Antarctic is just another huge system responding in its own way.". They want to drill down through almost half a mile of ice right at the point where the glacier goes afloat. Research and graphics by Alison Trowsdale, Becky Dale Lilly Huynh, Irene de la Torre. If it weren't for the ice, it would be deep ocean with a few islands. But sea level has a huge effect on the severity of storm surges, says Prof David Vaughan, the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey. It blows huge drifts of snow into the camp, swamping the equipment, and all the work stops. But understanding what is happening here is essential for scientists to be able to predict future sea level rise accurately. The world took notice earlier this month when temperatures there hit nearly 70 degrees. Updated 12:19 PM ET, Wed September 9, 2020. A look at maps of the region’s ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a […] 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. As the Gulf Stream cools between Greenland and Iceland, the water sinks. Ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels are putting a lot more heat into the atmosphere and the oceans. Its rate of loss has doubled in the past three decades, earning it the moniker “doomsday glacier.”. At the moment, the eastern side of the ice shelf is … 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. The Doomsday glacier has its name for a reason. I quickly discover why as I try to get there myself. The Thwaites Glacier is...a glacier. A simpler solution would be to "tackle climate change.". Photographs by Jemma Cox and David Vaughan. 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. There is no mistaking the epic forces at work here, slowly tearing, ripping and shattering the ice. Story at a glance. And Thwaites is remote even by Antarctic standards, more than 1,000 miles (1,600km) from the nearest research station.
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