Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is considered a “doomsday glacier” because if it melts, it could cause sea levels to rise by more than one meter. This would put coastal cities at risk and threaten millions of people, and its rapid melt could lead to a catastrophic event affecting the entire world.
The massive ice sheet beneath the continent is also a threatening factor. Scientists estimate that the ice could break free in 10 years and raise sea levels by two feet. This could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise in a few years and set off a domino effect on the surrounding ice. This is a significant concern for glaciologists. A recent study published in the Journal of Glaciology and Climate Change found that the ice shelf is failing to withstand the extreme temperatures that have been recorded in the polar regions.
The Thwaites Glacier could contribute approximately 4 percent of the total potential sea-level rise. The collapse of this glacier would destabilize other glaciers in the region and cumulatively cause several meters of sea-level height. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that the Thwaites Glacier is vulnerable to “Marine Ice Cliff Instability,” which is an ice-cliff collapse in the Antarctic.
Such a collapse would cause flooding in New York City, Bangkok, and New Orleans. The Thwaites ice sheet is losing its hold on its brace of mountaintops, causing its eastern portion to collapse rapidly. Scientists previously saw signs of instability but were surprised by how quickly the ice sheet fractures had spread. This phenomenon may happen in as little as five years.
Currently, scientists have three ways to study the ice shelf. A South Korean icebreaker ship, Araon, recently landed at the Dotson glacier to study its calving ice. Two robotic ships and a Crowdsource Boaty McBoatface drone can explore the glacier under the ice. The ice shelf is a crucial part of the glacier’s future, as it keeps the glacier from falling into the ocean.