Doomsday Glacier: New findings about Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier causing worry

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With a width of 120 km and a size of 1.9 lakh sq km, the fast moving and melting Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is often described as ‘Doomsday Glacier’ because of the risk it faces and poses. It has enough water locked up in it to raise world sea level by over half a metre and already accounts for 4% of world’s sea level rise each year.
This glacier is important for Antarctica as it slows the ice behind it from freely flowing into the ocean. It is estimated that it would subside into the sea in 200-900 years. If Thwaites melts aways, that much larger ice block behind it will add water to our oceans as well, further driving up sea level rise.
In 2020, scientists dug a 600 m deep and 35 cm wide access hole and deployed an ocean sensing device, Icefin, to measure the waters moving below the glaciers surface. They detected warm water at just 2 degree above freezing point at Thwaites grounding zone where ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on an ice shelf.
Recently, with the help of the uncrewed submarine Ran that made its way under Thwaites glacier front, researchers found that the supply of warm water to the glacier is larger than what was previously thought. It has triggered concerns of quickly melting and accelerating ice flow.
When glaciers melt and lose weight, they float off the land where they used to be situated and grounding line retreats which exposes more of the glacier’s underside to seawater.
The observations made by researchers from the University of Gothenburg show warm water approaching from all sides on pinning points where the ice is connected to the seabed and where the ice sheet finds stability. This has the possibility of making things unfortunate for Thwaites, whose ice shelf is already retreating.

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