The Doomsday Glacier: New Research Reveals Worrying Melting Rates

Experts from the British Antarctic Survey and the US Antarctic Program are worried about the rapid melting of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, often referred to as the “Doomsday Glacier”.[0] This glacier, which is the size of Britain, could cause catastrophic sea level rise if it collapses.

Using a robot called Icefin, researchers have been able to get a close-up view of the melting beneath the Antarctic Glacier.[1] Icefin was lowered through a 600-meter-deep borehole, providing detailed information about the conditions beneath the freezing waters.[0]

The team found that the landscape under the glacier is filled with crevasses and large cracks that go through the ice. These cracks melted faster because they were able to be filled with warm, salty water.[2] It is believed that the warming of the waters surrounding Antarctica is a consequence of climate change.

The researchers found that the ice base was melting slower than expected, at about 6.5 to 16.4 feet (2 to 5 m) of ice loss per year. This was because the underside of the ice was cushioned by a layer of fresh meltwater.[3] Despite the suppressed melting, the glacier is still retreating, the researchers note.[4]

The Thwaites Glacier works like a cork at the end of a frozen river and holds one of Antarctica’s two massive ice sheets in check.[5] Due to climate change, the waters around Antarctica are getting warmer. This warm water is flowing beneath the ice shelf, melting it from the bottom and causing it to become thinner. In the past two decades, the boundary between the floating ice and bedrock, known as the grounding line, has shifted inwards by about 8 miles due to the loss of ice from the shelf.[6]

Modelling shows that the thawing of Thwaites Glacier could raise global sea levels by an average of more than half a metre.[7] Meanwhile, collapse of the glacier could also destabilise neighbouring glaciers, leading to an additional three-metre rise.[8]

The collected data reveals that the glacier is melting slower than expected as compared to previous projections, averaging 6.5 to 17.7 feet a year. This indicates that Thwaites may be more sensitive to small levels of melting than scientists previously thought.[3] In other words, it may be that the underside of Thwaites is much more delicate than previously thought.[9]

The research is a reminder that the doomsday glacier is in trouble.[10]

0. “Watch: Close-Up View Of Snow Melting Under Antarctica's “Doomsday Glacier”” NDTV, 18 Feb. 2023,

1. “Daily briefing: Watch a wooden seed-planting robot drill itself into the soil”, 15 Feb. 2023,

2. “Researchers Observe Large Cracks Throughout Antarctica's ‘Doomsday Glacier'” Gizmodo, 16 Feb. 2023,

3. “Antarctica's ‘Doomsday Glacier' May Be More Prone to Melting Than Expected” Scientific American, 16 Feb. 2023,

4. “New results provide close-up view of melting underneath Thwaites Glacier” Newswise, 15 Feb. 2023,

5. “What New ‘Doomsday' Thwaites Glacier Research Tells Us” TIME, 16 Feb. 2023,

6. “What's happening at Thwaites glacier in Antarctica? Scientists have new clues about melting” Baltimore Sun, 16 Feb. 2023,

7. “Robot deployed underneath ‘Doomsday Glacier' delivers surprising views” Interesting Engineering, 15 Feb. 2023,

8. “Melting Antarctic doomsday glacier may raise sea levels 65cm” Cosmos, 15 Feb. 2023,

9. “A Robot Finds More Trouble Under the Doomsday Glacier” WIRED, 15 Feb. 2023,

10. “Aussie cities underwater if sea levels rise 60m as scientists warn of ‘doomsday glacier' melting” Daily Mail, 22 Feb. 2023,

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