Ocean Water Speeds Up Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' Melting, Study Warns Of Rise In Sea Levels

New research reveals that warm ocean water is melting Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier faster than previously thought, potentially leading to greater sea level rise.

A study has unveiled a concerning revelation about Antarctica's infamous "Doomsday Glacier," shedding light on its vulnerability to the warming oceans. Thwaites Glacier dubbed as "Doomsday Glacier" due to its potentially catastrophic impact on global sea levels, has long been a focal point for scientists.

Now, new research utilising space radar data has exposed previously unknown dynamics occurring beneath its icy surface.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study conducted by a team of glaciologists, primarily from the University of California, Irvine, utilised high-resolution satellite radar data to conduct an X-ray-like examination of the glacier. This detailed analysis revealed that ocean water, salty and relatively warm, is infiltrating beneath Thwaites Glacier, leading to significant melting unseen before.

The process, termed "vigorous melting" by researchers, occurs as the ocean water meets the glacier's base, eroding its stability. This finding challenges previous assumptions about the glacier's resilience and suggests that projections of global sea level rise may have underestimated the role of Thwaites Glacier.

Thwaites Glacier, the world's widest glacier and roughly the size of Florida, already contributes 4% to global sea level rise. However, its potential collapse could lead to a staggering 10-foot rise in sea levels, posing a dire threat to coastal communities worldwide.

Eric Rignot, a co-author of the study, highlighted the significance of the new data, emphasising that previous observations were sporadic, whereas the latest dataset provides daily insights over several months. The research unveiled the extensive intrusion of seawater beneath the glacier, with water movement following the rhythm of tides, impacting the glacier's surface, and accelerating its melting.

While the study's findings have been deemed "fascinating and important" by experts like Ted Scambos from the University of Colorado Boulder, uncertainties remain. James Smith from the British Antarctic Survey stressed the importance of incorporating these new insights into ice sheet models, acknowledging the complexity of Antarctica's environment.

Additionally, a separate study by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey highlighted the concerning trend of record-low sea ice levels surrounding Antarctica. This phenomenon, attributed to climate change, exposes coastal ice sheets and glaciers to heightened risks of melting and disintegration.

Louise Sime, a co-author of the BAS study, emphasised the profound impacts of prolonged low sea ice levels, indicating a lasting regime shift in the region. These findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive understanding and mitigation efforts to address the escalating threats posed by climate change to Antarctica's fragile ecosystems and global sea levels.

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