Scientists Warn That ‘Doomsday Glacier’ the Size of Florida Is Hanging on ‘By Its Fingernails’

by Emily Morgan

The Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday glacier,” is reportedly on the brink of collapsing. According to reports, the glacier could raise sea levels by several feet. 

Now, scientists are reporting that the apocalyptic glacier is hanging on “by its fingernails.”

The doomsday glacier, roughly the size of Florida, is disintegrating faster than previously predicted, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A group of researchers studied the glacier and found it was moving at “exceptionally fast rates of past retreat,” including a period in which the glacier fell back by 1.3 miles per year in the past 200 years.

“Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small time scales in the future — even from one year to the next — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed,” British Antarctic Survey’s Robert Larter, a co-author of the study, said in a news release.

The result of the predicted melting could be detrimental, according to the scientists. “You can’t take away Thwaites and leave the rest of Antarctica intact,” said Alastair Graham, a marine geologist at the University of South Florida and a co-author of the journal.

The Thwaites Glacier is one of the most expansive glaciers on the planet. However, it makes up only a tiny chunk of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea level by up to 16 feet if it were to melt, per reports from NASA.

In addition, Thwaites is perched on the ocean floor rather than on land. As a result, this puts it at a high risk of melting due to warming waters. 

Melting ‘doomsday glacier’ could have devastating consequences for coastal populations

Moreover, previous studies revealed that oceans absorb up to 90% of the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions and that oceans are heating up faster than ever expected. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Thwaites’ melting makes up about 4% of the annual sea level rise, sitting at about 0.12 to 0.14 inches per year

Rising sea levels could also be disastrous for millions of people. More than 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of a coast. 

However, this is not the first sign we’ve been given that Thwaites may be in a perilous state. Satellite images captured last year show that an ice shelf in the eastern region of the glacier is close to cracking.

“Things are evolving really rapidly here,” said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and a leader of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. “It’s daunting.”

Graham also said that his team could not predict whether the Thwaites Glacier will completely melt but that minimizing emissions would be critical to reducing the chance.

“Right now, we can do something about it — especially if we can stop the ocean from warming,” he said.