Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The melt rate of West Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is an important concern for climate scientists, because this glacier alone is currently responsible for about 1% of global sea level rise. (Photo: Stuart Rankin/Flickr/cc)

'Really, Really Bad': Scientists Raise Alarm Over Warm Ocean Water Beneath 'Doomsday Glacier' in Antarctica

"Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change."

Julia Conley

A study by British and American scientists revealed that a massive sheet of ice known as the "doomsday glacier" is melting faster than experts previously believed—edging the world closer to a possible sea level rise of more than 10 feet.

Researchers at New York University and the British Antarctic Survey drilled through nearly 2,000 feet of ice in the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica, to measure temperatures at the 75-mile wide ice sheet's "grounding line," where the ice meets the ocean.

The water just beneath the ice was found to be 32º Fahrenheit—more than 2º above freezing temperature in the Antarctic region.

The findings have "huge implications for global sea level rise," NYU scientist David Holland said in a statement.

350.org co-founder and author Bill McKibben was among the climate action campaigners who expressed alarm over the new study.

"Oh, damn," McKibben wrote on social media.

The researchers expressed concern that the water beneath the glacier could be even warmer in other areas.

Scientists refer to Thwaites as the "doomsday glacier" due to the dire implications its rapid melting could have for the planet. Though a 10-foot sea level rise would likely take years, the melting of the glacier could eventually mean the U.S. would lose 28,800 square miles of coastal land—pushing 12.3 million people currently living in those areas out of their homes.

"Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change," Holland said.

The Thwaites glacier has lost 600 billion tons of ice over the past several decades, accelerating to as many as 50 billion tons per year in recent years.

"There is very warm water there, and clearly, it could not have been there forever, or the glacier could not be there," Holland told the Washington Post of the recent findings, suggesting the water has gotten warmer recently.

Scientists are especially concerned about the Thwaites because its configuration is an example of "marine ice sheet instability."

As Chris Mooney wrote at the Post:

Thwaites gets deeper and thicker from its oceanfront region back into its interior in the heart of West Antarctica. This is known to be an unstable configuration for a glacier, because as the ocean continues to eat away at its base, the glacier becomes thicker, so more ice is exposed to the ocean. In turn, that ice flows outward faster.

BBC released a short video detailing the scientists' journey to the Thwaites glacier and their findings.

"The ice rises almost a mile from the sea bed and it's collapsing into the sea at two miles a year," the narration explains. "If Thwaites melts, it will increase sea levels worldwide by half a meter. But it sits in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet and there's three meters more of sea level rise locked up in there."

 
"That is really, really bad," Holland told the Post of the most recent discovery. "That's not a sustainable situation for that glacier."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

On Election Day, Warnock Supporters Urge Georgians 'Don't Walk, Run to the Polls!'

"The stakes could not be higher," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Alexis McGill Johnson, who campaigned for the Democratic senator. "Freedom is on the ballot."

Jessica Corbett ·


Revealing New Evidence in Abu Akleh's Killing, Al Jazeera Sues Israeli Forces at ICC

The news network said the journalist's killing was part of a "wider attack on Al Jazeera, and journalists in Palestine."

Julia Conley ·


Fears of Escalation as Ukraine Answers Russian Missile Onslaught With Strike Deep Inside Invader's Territory

Ukrainian drones bombed two air bases more than 300 miles inside Russia, reportedly killing three soldiers, wounding four others, and damaging multiple warplanes.

Brett Wilkins ·


Patient Groups Push Congress to Combat Big Pharma Greed in Spending Bill

"As Congress works toward finalizing an end-of-year budget package, we urge the chambers to include bipartisan legislation to address abuse of the Food and Drug Administration's citizen petition process in order to reduce drug prices and save the government hundreds of millions of dollars."

Brett Wilkins ·


10,000+ Sign Open Letter Demanding Biden Order Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers

"No one, especially in the world's richest nation, should have to choose between forgoing pay or working through severe illness and family emergencies," says The Lever's letter.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo