The so-called Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica, named for its size and tendency to crumble, has largely impeded international efforts to determine how dangerously fragile it is.
A large iceberg broke through the Thwaites glacier. Along with sea ice it is blocking two research vessels with dozens scientists from inspecting how fast its critical ice shelf is falling apart.
A multi-year, $50 million global effort is being led by scientists from all over the globe to study the Florida-sized glacier via land, sea and below during the Antarctic summer.
Officials said that plans to study the crucial ice shelf of the glacier have not been halted, but are being sidetracked.
Rob Larter from the British Antarctic Survey, who was chief scientist on the first mission, stated that this was the final of three international scientific expeditions to the fragile ice shelf.
David Holland, a New York University environmental scientist, planned to drill through Thwaites Ice Shelf to measure the water’s temperature below it. He is now achingly close, but not quite there.
Holland improvised and he stayed at the Dotson ice shelf nearby to conduct his research. Holland hopes that he will be able to learn more about the warm ocean water below Dotson and Thwaites through that blindingly white ice and its rugged, frozen cliffs. The Thwaites Ice Shelf is approximately 87 miles (140 km) west of Dotson.
Holland stated that the ice shelf is “the most important part” of Thwaites. He said this in his first video interview, which was recorded from the Dotson Ice Shelf. Holland described Dotson’s Dotson ice shelf as “this beautiful desert-like landscape, brilliantly blanched actually.” It will all be replaced by the Pacific Ocean soon.
Holland said Monday that “Nobody can reach Thwaites this season,” to The Associated Press. “We tried to cut it through for a week. It was impossible. We’re right there.”
Holland stated that Thwaites is now spawning more icebergs because it’s crumbling. Larter stated that this iceberg was once Thwaites’ leading edge or tongue until it split off around 20 years ago. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, it measures approximately 43 miles by 28 mi (70 km by 44 kilometers), which is almost as big as Rhode Island.
The problem lies in the fact that large amounts of sea ice gravitated around the massive iceberg. Larter stated that overall Antarctic sea-ice levels are unusually low at this time of the year.
Although Thwaites edges are showing cracks that look like car windshields, safety mountaineers checked the area where researchers had set up camp on Dotson. Holland said he isn’t concerned about any danger. Holland stated that Holland’s ankle injury is not serious and that a red helicopter was flying to the rescue.
Thwaites’ future is dependent on the ice shelf, and its tongue. Holland stated that these edges, which have warm water beneath, border the ocean and provide “backsupport” that keeps the rest of the glacier from falling into seawater.
Scientists are concerned that the glacier’s leading edge is eroding in several places. Although total collapse of glacier could take many hundreds of thousands of years, it is happening much faster. Researchers fear that the rest of the glacier could also collapse if this happens.
Holland stated via Zoom that “I believe the ice shelf” will disappear in a matter years to decades. Holland was speaking from Zoom while he was using Zoom to view a computer that Holland had set up at an outdoor table under the 24-hour sunlight. The morning temperature was -4 (-20 C). “But the actual inland glacier, that’s what’s really unknown.”
Scientists believe that if all of Thwaites falls, it could raise sea levels around the world by more than 2 feet (65 cm). However, this could take hundreds of decades.
Holland stated that “Eventually over time, it’s going to change the global coastline.”
Holland stated that while places such as Greenland — , where Holland in 2019 studied the melting Helheim Glacier — are melting from warm atmosphere above, Thwaites, and its neighbouring glaciers, have it worse. They are melting from warm water below the Ice, which acts quicker. He said that natural weather variations are a part of this, but that climate changes is also playing a role.
Holland stated that computer models showed that greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning “are tilting in a manner that’s bringing more warmth south.”
Holland was inspired to explore the warm underground ocean water. He planned to drill hundreds of feet below the ice and place sensors in the warm pools. It’s not warm, it’s between 32 and 34 degrees (0 to 1 Degree Celsius). However, the water is still liquid since salt water requires a lower temperature in order to freeze.
Ian Joughin from the University of Washington, an ice scientist, warned that Thwaites is a concern, particularly the collapse of giant glacier cliffs. However, his computer simulations indicate that this is unlikely to happen until 200 years later.
Joughin stated in an email, “We must take these glaciers serious without sounding like Chicken Little,”
Paul Cutler, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation glaciology programs, stated that Thwaites could be replaced by neighboring glaciers if Thwaites leaves.
Cutler said Tuesday that once Thwaites is gone, you will also see other ice being drained into the basin. It tends to cause West Antarctica’s rest to fall over time, according to all forecasting models.
Holland was able to fly on the helicopter of the South Korean icebreaker Araon, which they used to land at Dotson. The U.S. National Science Foundation research ship, the Nathaniel B. Palmer with 35 scientists and two submarine drone ships has not been able to reach Thwaites and does not have helicopters.
According to Cutler, NSF’s Cutler, the Palmer researchers are currently studying Dotson and hope to see the berg. He said that science is progressing. He noted that earlier, Thwaites was visited by researchers from other areas of Antarctica.
Cutler stated, “There’s much to learn about Dotson.”
Holland has a deep appreciation for nature, even in its monotone whiteness. The only sounds that can be heard are wind and occasional seagulls.
From Dotson’s ice shelf, he stated that “It’s kinda lonely place but in a beautiful manner.” It’s very peaceful. It’s sad that all of it will be gone.