Science Simplified 2/22/23

By Reagan Oliver, Staff Writer

Talk about an icebreaker –– except this fact isn’t very fun. The Thwaites Glacier is the largest glacier in West Antarctica, but it may not be for long. 

The rate at which the glacier is melting is much faster than the rate at which new ice is freezing due to ice melting faster than it has in the last few thousand years.The Thwaites Glacier alone has accounted for roughly half of the ice lost in Antarctica. 

Peter Davis, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey, led a team of researchers to evaluate the Thwaites. The researchers used a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) to assess the glacier’s underbelly. The ROV found massive cracks, also known as basal crevasses, underneath the Thwaites. 

These cracks pose a colossal threat, exposing more surface area of the glacier for warm seawater to erode, increasing the melting rate. This could accelerate the years-long process of these cracks’ disintegration of the Thwaites until the crack reaches hundreds of meters up to the top. In the researcher’s report, published Feb. 15 by Nature, they explained that even the most minor cracks in a glacier could inflict massive damage to the glacier and the entire ecosystem. 

The disintegration of this glacier would have catastrophic repercussions. Over the past few centuries, the global sea level has risen by five to eight inches; the melting of the Thwaites could cause the global sea level to rise by up to 10 feet. Cities such as New York City, New Orleans, Miami and Hollywood would suffer massive damage if they managed to survive the rising sea level. 

The world is a place of connectivity, so don’t think that a glacier on the southmost pole of our planet isn’t going to affect your daily life here in the U.S.