The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting fast. Losing the Thwaites Glacier would be troubling, but according to scientists, its nickname as Doomsday Glacier could be more dangerous.
Quoted from Cnet, Thursday (8/9/2022) Thwaites Glacier is known as the Doomsday Glacier. In addition to the Thwaites Glacier, in Antarctica there is also the Pine Island Glacier. With an area of 192,000 sq km and 162,300 sq km respectively, the Thwaites Glacier and Pine Island have the potential to cause significant global sea level rise. That is why this glacier is nicknamed the Doomsday Glacier.
The largest glacier on Earth is in the spotlight. It extends into the Southern Ocean and loses about 50 billion tons of ice per year. That loss has doubled over the last 30 years. In 2019, NASA scientists discovered a large cavity beneath the glacier that could hasten the glacier’s collapse.
This week, researchers mapped the seafloor in front of Thwaites, showing the glacier had retreated rapidly in the past, and urging action to contain it.
This is worrying. If Thwaites melted, sea level would rise by about 60cm. The glacier’s demise could also destabilize the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which locks in about 3 meters of sea level rise. Such a disbursement would be catastrophic.
Use of the Term ‘Apocalypse Glacier’
But the nickname, although it has generated a lot of coverage exploring the fate of Thwaites, scientists say may actually do more harm than good. Why?
On May 9, 2017, Rolling Stone published the brilliantly researched and written work on Thwaites by climate writer Jeff Goodell. The title is simple and powerful: ‘The Doomsday Glacier’ or ‘Kiama Glaciert’. This title is perfect for the story. But the nickname was then continued to be used.
Even today, publications about Thwaites often call it the Doomsday Glacier because its disintegration can cause sea level rise of up to 3 meters. That is not true.
“Not sure how the disintegration of Thwaites will change sea levels in the short term. The glacier itself locks in about 60cm of sea level rise, but most stories use a range of up to 3 meters. This actually refers to the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet being lost,” Ted said. Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder and member of the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.
Experts associated with glaciological and polar research, all highlight the plight of Thwaites that is increasingly concerning. However, most have mixed feelings if the title is associated with the Day of Judgment. Many refuse to use the term ‘Apocalypse Glacier’ altogether.
“I don’t recommend using the term ‘Apocalypse Glacier’ to refer to the Thwaites Glacier. We could call it the ‘most risky glacier’ instead,” Scambos said.
One of the main reasons why scientists are uncomfortable with the term is because it suggests that we are doomed.
According to scientists, the narrative of doom and gloom gives the impression that we are past the point of no return, that Thwaites are gone, melting more widely, and causing inaction and are beyond rescue. In essence, imprecise terms give us the wrong ideas and information.
“We can still slow Thwaites’ retreat if we take the right climate action but it’s as if ‘time is running out’. It’s as bad as doomsday, of course,” said Eric Rignot, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Another reason ‘Apocalypse Glacier’ might not be a good name is because it obscures the larger problem facing frozen regions of Earth. Human-caused climate change and the burning of fossil fuels have caused glacial decline across the planet.
“On the one hand, this is a danger alarm. On the other hand, it encapsulates the situation as if there is only one bad glacier out there,” he said.
Rignot explains there are many glaciers around the world, scattered also in East Antarctica and Greenland for example, that lock up more water. If the glacier were to crumble and disappear, sea level rise could be greater than expected if Thwaites melted.
This week’s study in Nature Geoscience, led by glaciologist Robert Larter at the British Antarctic Survey, shows just how dire the situation is and how fast Thwaites is retreating from estimates. But even Larter avoids using the word ‘Doomsday Glacier’.
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