'Doomsday glacier,' which could raise sea level by several feet, is holding on 'by its fingernails,' scientists say

Antarctica’s so-called “doomsday glacier” – nicknamed because of its high risk of collapse and threat to global sea level – has the potential to rapidly retreat in the coming

years, scientists say, amplifying concerns over the extreme sea level rise that would accompany its potential demise. The Thwaites Glacier, capable of raising sea level by

several feet, is eroding along its underwater base as the planet warms. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists mapped the glacier’s historical

retreat, hoping to learn from its past what the glacier will likely do in the future. They found that at some point in the past two centuries, the base of the glacier

dislodged from the seabed and retreated at a rate of 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) per year. That’s twice the rate that scientists have observed in the past decade or so.

That swift disintegration possibly occurred “as recently as the mid-20th century,” Alastair Graham, the study’s lead author and a marine geophysicist at the University of South

Florida, said in a news release. The floating ice edge at Thwaites Glacier margin in 2019. - Robert Larter It suggests the Thwaites has the capability to undergo a

rapid retreat in the near future, once it recedes past a seabed ridge that is helping to keep it in check. “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we

should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future – even from one year to the next – once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed,” Robert

Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of the study’s co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey, said in the release.