Talk About

The ‘doomsday’ glacier: the key to understanding our future?

adventure blue calm waters climb

A recent paleoclimatology (the study of the climate history of Earth) investigation has revealed that we are experiencing global warming at levels we have not seen for 6,000 years, showing the increasing severity of climate change. 

To put this into context, global warming over the past 150 years has undone the earth’s cooling process that has taken place over 6,500 years!

Let’s talk facts

Our current global temperature sits at around 0.7 degrees Celsius higher than the average temperature during the 19th century. Whilst you may think this doesn’t seem that large, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions this is extraordinary! This increase is largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas and agricultural practices. 

As research professor Cody Routson has stated, ‘Our future climate will largely depend on the influence of human factors’. To me, this adds an important level of stewardship to you and I – we are wholly responsible for our climate for future generations. 

Thwaites glacier in Antarctica 

To better understand our changing climate and impact of global warming, researchers have turned to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica – a region that holds 90% of the ice on the planet. Scientists have dubbed this the ‘doomsday’ glacier, as its rapid melting would have a detrimental impact on life on Earth.

Described as the holder of ‘crucial clues about the future of the planet’, the Thwaites glacier has become the ‘focus of a major research project’, to better understand why it is degrading so quickly and what impact its continual melting will have on sea levels. Much of the Thwaites glacier has disappeared already, explaining the level of urgency. British and American geologists have been analysing the rocks at the base of the glacier to understand its history to better plan for the future. 

But, why is this such a big issue considering we have experienced a drop in carbon emissions since lockdown? Well, this temporary change is not enough to offset thousands of years of damage. Carbon emissions have been locked inside the earth in fossils and carbonated rocks, explaining why using fewer fossil fuels will decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. In fact, June was the hottest on record! 

So, why are rising sea levels so hazardous? 

If the Thwaites glacier melts, this could have knock-on effects for other glaciers, increasing sea levels by 2 to 3 metres. Scientists have claimed this would have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on our coastal cities around the world.

Currently, governments have been building new infrastructure in coastal cities to deal with the issue of rising sea levels, which has already had widespread consequences. Clearly, more needs to be done in terms of preventing such a disaster from occurring, as well as planning for if it does happen. 

Leave a Reply