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Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ is melting fast and could raise sea levels by 11ft by end of century

With the potential to raise global sea levels, Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier has been widely nicknamed “Doomsday Glacier.”

Now, a study has revealed how fast the massive glacier is melting — and warns that it could lead to global sea-level rise of up to 3.4 meters in the coming centuries.

Researchers from the University of Maine and the British Antarctic Survey have measured the rate of local sea level changes, which is an indirect way of measuring ice loss.

Their measurements suggest the glacier is retreating at a rate not seen in the past 5,500 years.

“While these vulnerable glaciers have been relatively stable over the past millennia, their current rate of retreat is increasing and global sea levels are already rising,” said Dr Dylan Rood of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, who co-authored the study.

With the potential to raise global sea levels, Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier has been widely nicknamed 'Doomsday Glacier'

With the potential to raise global sea levels, Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier has been widely nicknamed ‘Doomsday Glacier’

Researchers from the University of Maine and the British Antarctic Survey have measured the rate of local sea level changes, which is an indirect way of measuring ice loss

Researchers from the University of Maine and the British Antarctic Survey have measured the rate of local sea level changes, which is an indirect way of measuring ice loss

The Doomsday Glacier

The Thwaites Glacier currently measures 192,000 square kilometers, about the same size as Great Britain.

It is up to 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) thick and is considered essential in making projections of global sea level rise.

The glacier is retreating in the face of the warming ocean and is considered unstable because its interior is more than two kilometers (1.2 mi) below sea level, while on the coast, the glacier’s floor is quite shallow.

The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier would cause a global sea level rise of one to two meters (three to six feet), with the potential of more than double the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Home to the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has thinned in recent decades due to rising global temperatures.

The Thwaites Glacier currently measures 192,000 square kilometers, about the same size as Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the Pine Island Glacier at 62,662 square miles (162,300 square kilometers) is about the same size as Florida.

Together, the two have the potential to cause massive rises in global sea levels if they melt.

In their new study, the team wanted to measure how quickly the ice over these two glaciers has thinned since the mid-Holocene, more than 5,000 years ago.

The team examined seashells and penguin bones on Antarctic beaches, using radiocarbon dating to estimate how long they had been above sea level.

When glaciers sit on land, they push down on the Earth’s surface.

But when they melt, the land “rebounds” so that what was once a beach is now higher than sea level.

This explains why the local sea level for this country dropped, while globally the water from the melting ice caused the global sea level to rise.

The team examined seashells and penguin bones on Antarctic beaches, using radiocarbon dating to estimate how long they've been above sea level

The team examined seashells and penguin bones on Antarctic beaches, using radiocarbon dating to estimate how long they’ve been above sea level

Home to the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has thinned in recent decades due to rising global temperatures

Home to the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has thinned in recent decades due to rising global temperatures

By determining the ages of these beaches from the shells and penguin bones, the researchers were able to tell when the beach appeared and reconstruct changes in local — or relative — sea levels over time.

Their results showed that there has been a steady decline in relative sea levels over the past 5,500 years, which the researchers say is the result of ice loss just prior to that time.

According to their measurements, the relative sea level drop is also five times higher today than it was 5,500 years ago.

Overall, the findings suggest that glaciers were relatively stable until recently and that the current rate of retreat has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

According to their measurements, the relative fall in sea level today is five times faster than 5500 years ago

According to their measurements, the relative fall in sea level today is five times faster than 5500 years ago

“These currently elevated ice melt rates could signal that those vital arteries have torn from the heart of the WAIS, leading to an accelerated flow to the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea levels in a warming world,” said Dr. Red.

“We urgently need to find out if it’s too late to stop the bleeding.”

In addition to the shells and penguin bones found on Antarctic beaches, the researchers believe there may be important clues buried deep beneath the ice.

In a follow-up study, the team will drill through the glacial ice to collect rocks beneath.

They believe this could hold evidence as to whether the current accelerating melt rates are reversible or not.

GLACIER AND ICE SHEET MELTING WOULD HAVE A ‘DRAMATIC IMPACT’ ON GLOBAL SEASIDES

If the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica collapses, sea levels could rise by up to 3 meters worldwide.

Sea level rise threatens cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying parts of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations like the Maldives.

In the UK, a rise of 2 meters (6.7 ft) or more could cause areas such as Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of East London and the Thames Estuary to be flooded.

The glacier’s collapse, which could start with decades, could also flood major cities like New York and Sydney.

Parts of New Orleans, Houston and Miami in the southern US would also be particularly hard hit.

A 2014 study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists looked at 52 sea level indicators in communities across the US.

Based on a conservative estimate of the predicted sea level rise based on current data, it has been determined that the tidal range will increase dramatically in many locations on the eastern and gulf coasts.

The results showed that most of these communities will experience a sharp increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding in the coming decades.

By 2030, more than half of the 52 communities surveyed are expected to experience at least 24 tidal floods per year on average in exposed areas, assuming moderate sea level rise. Twenty of these communities could see a tripling or more in tidal flooding.

The mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the largest increases in flood frequency. Places such as Annapolis, Maryland, and Washington DC can expect more than 150 tidal floods per year, and 80 or more tidal floods can occur in several locations in New Jersey.

In the UK, a two meter (6.5 ft) rise would nearly completely submerge large parts of Kent by 2040, according to the results of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in November 2016.

Areas on the south coast such as Portsmouth, as well as Cambridge and Peterborough would also be hard hit.

Towns and villages around the Humber Estuary, such as Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, would also experience severe flooding.

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