“Doomsday” Glacier’s Melting 

Angelina Huang ‘25

Global warming has been circling the media for years, and since the 1880s, active burning of coal, gas and other fossil fuels have collectively begun increasing global temperatures, subsequently rising sea levels. The warming of the atmosphere ascends sea levels by melting large masses of ice, and expanding water as it warms. These factors generate perils that include increased threats of inundation of land from higher tides and additional storms.  

The “Doomsday” Glacier, formally known as the Thwaites Glacier, sits atop the Western edge of Antarctica, holding the title as the “widest glacier in the world” (roughly the size of Florida). This large sheet of ice spans about 80 miles with a depth of 2,600-3,900 feet [2]. 

Its ominous alias refers to its ability to raise the sea level by over two feet if it falls completely and releases all water mass. Increased sea levels to this capacity will inevitably lead to the extreme “danger-zone” worthy flooding of coastal cities. 

The ice mass’s thawing can be attributed to the crust below the glacier. The West Antarctic crust was reported to be noticeably thinner than the East Antarctic by around 15 miles, generating more exposure to geothermal heat. Additionally, the glacier has contact to the warmer warming circulating beneath the glacier, directly melting the ice underneath. 

Regardless, Thwaites acts as a stabilizer, gripping the seafloor, therefore, holding contact with the rest of the West Antarctic ice. Its melting state loosens the glacier’s hold on the seafloor below, which results in more instability for the rest of West Antarctica. As the warmer water underneath lifts Thwaites, its grip weakens. Once Thwaites is completely gone, a “domino effect” will cause the falling of more icebergs from the West Antarctic ice sheet. This is due to the warmer water current now hitting the exposed ice sheet inflicting a “cascade of glacial collapse” [2]. In the absence of the “Doomsday” Glacier, these repercussions could further raise the sea-level up to ten feet [1]. 

Additionally, satellite images taken November 2021 exhibit rapid lengthening fractures.  Researchers compare its vulnerability for surface rupture, stating that the whole ice shelf would “shatter like a car window” [2], leaving the West Antarctic ice without its ice brake. Despite this, the Thwaites Glacier won’t be likely to shatter for another three to five years. 

The Doomsday Glacier currently sheds about 50 billion tons of ice per year, constituting 4% of annual sea-level rise. The ice mass currently loses 45 billion tons more ice than it collects from snowfall. 

The AGU, the American Geophysical Union, held a virtual meeting on December 13, discussing said aspects of the hazardness glacier’s future. Additionally, the ITGC, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration are continually monitoring the rates of glacial melt, stating, “It’s critical to get a clearer picture of how the glacier will behave over the next 100 years.” 


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2021/12/24/doomsday-glacier-the-size-of-florida-could-collapse-this-decade-remaking-coastlines-worldwide/?sh=6a2960445379

[2] https://www.space.com/agu-antarctica-thwaites-glacier-future

[3] https://scitechdaily.com/doomsday-glacier-threat-rapid-retreat-of-antarcticas-riskiest-glacier/


[5] https://www.livescience.com/antarctica-doomsday-glacier-geothermal-heat-map

[6] https://interactive.pri.org/2019/05/antarctica/thwaites-glacier-collapse.html