the Thwaites Glacier lies in the west of the Antarctic. It flows east of the extinct Mount Murphy into the Pine Island Bay of the Amundsen Sea. Together with the Pine Island Glacier, the Doomsday Glacier, as it is called, is counted as part of the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If this glacier were to collapse and melt completely, the sea level would rise by a good 65 centimeters. The consequences for some German cities would have been devastating.
Thwaites Glacier cracks suggest collapse
With an area of 192,000 square kilometers, it is more than twice the size of Austria. Experts from the USA and Great Britain have taken a closer look at the future of the glacier. Much of the ice is already floating on the sea, but is still connected to the Thwaites Glacier. If this so-called ice shelf splinters, the sea level rise due to the “Doomsday Glacier” would begin much earlier than in, as previously assumed, only 100 years.
“Using satellite data, ground penetrating radar and GPS measurements, we suggest that the final collapse of the last remaining ice shelf of the Thwaites Glacier could be initiated by the intersection of cracks with hidden basal fissure zones within just 5 years.”
EC Pettit et al. (2021)
Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit and her team published their results at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. They would have mapped weaker and stronger areas of the ice shelf. The researchers: Inside suspect a “zigzag” path that the cracks through the ice could take.
Consequences for Germany
Should the ice shelf flow into the sea in five years, the consequences on the German North Sea coast would initially be limited. But it becomes critical at the latest when the entire Thwaites Glacier goes down the proverbial and literal drain. The interactive Risk Zone Map (Link) from the non-profit organization Climate Central shows the concrete consequences of such an incident.
The cities of Bremerhaven, Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel and even Hamburg would be particularly hard hit by the floods.
Sources: “C34A-07 – Collapse of Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf by intersecting fractures. (Invited) “(2021, American Geophysical Union); Climate Central