When it comes to the melting of ice, we are faced with two major bodies of ice: ice caps and ice sheets. Ice caps are a covering of ice over a large area, especially at the polar region of a planet while ice sheets are a layer of ice covering a piece of land for a prolonged time The melting of these sheets as well as their breakage are accelerated by the burning of fossil fuels, oil and gas drilling, deforestation, and ice-breaking ships.
While such actions cause melting all over the polar regions, the most dangerous impact had been narrowed down into the western side of the Antarctic ice sheet. This ice sheet has been now known as not only the biggest but also the most vulnerable ice sheet.
Fig 1: Overhead view of the Antarctic ice sheet
The ice sheet currently has six glaciers named Pine Island glacier, Thwaites glacier, Haynes glacier, Pope glacier, Smith glacier, and Kohler glacier respectively in the Amundsen Sea sector.
Fig 2: Lateral view of glaciers in Amundsen Sea Sector
While talking about ice sheets in general, ice sheets have an uneven bedrock at the bottom and the rest of their upper portion is snow and ice. Snow tends to pile up in the middle and it slowly pushes out towards the sides of an ice sheet. The ice sheet tends to be surrounded by water at all times. Ice sheets also have a small layer of ice at the sides which can be likened to the arms we spread when balancing on a balancing beam. Such layers are known as ice shelves.
Fig 3: Side view of the built of the Antarctic ice shelf
As we see in the above figure (figure 3) the western side of the Antarctic ice sheet has most of its snow under sea level (marked by the red line) while the eastern side has most of the snow above the sea level. We must remember that along with rising sea levels, we also face the concern of rising sea temperatures. As more and more of the ice sheet is being covered by water, it is even more prone to accelerated melting.
Fig 4: side view of glaciers in Antarctica ice sheet
Out of the given glaciers, the Thwaites glacier is known to be the most vulnerable glacier within the Antarctic ice shelf. The grounding line is the point where the ice last meets the bedrock and is representative of the stability of the entire ice sheet. The humongous “doomsday” glacier reaches right into the heart of West Antarctica. Its grounding point is by far the most receding one and its collapse would mean the unstoppable collapse of the Western Antarctica ice shelf. This would in turn lead to the collapse of the entire ice shelf, leading to an immense rise in sea level.
In the past years, it has become clear that the Thwaites glacier has begun to break apart. If this is not controlled, the world will be facing a great danger of climate change and rising sea levels. Whether we have crossed the point of no return or not is bestowed upon with great scientific debate, worsened by the idea that climate change is a hoax. However, we must work to slow down the melting of ice sheets and ice caps.
- Hogen, K. A. (2021, April 9). how warm water is melting Thwaites Glacier. International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. https://thwaitesglacier.org/news/underwater-robot-reveals-how-warm-water-melting-thwaites-glacier
- Plumer, B. (2014, May 12). The Collapse of West Antarctica’s glaciers appears unstable. vox. https://www.vox.com/2014/5/12/5710440/the-collapse-of-west-antarcticas-glaciers-appears-unstoppable
- Thwaites: ‘Doomsday Glacier’ vulnerability seen in new maps. (2020, September 9). BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54079587
- Desk, E. (2021, April 15). Explained: Why have new findings of Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ caused worry? Indian express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-thwaites-glacier-finding-doomsday-melting-worry-7269124/