Exploration of ocean currents beneath the ‘Doomsday Glacier’

For the first time, researchers have been able to obtain data from underneath Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”. They find that the supply of warm water to the glacier is larger than previously thought, triggering concerns of faster m

UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG

Research News

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IMAGE: PHOTO OF THE UNCREWED SUBMARINE RAN view more CREDIT: FILIP STEDT

For the first time, researchers have been able to obtain data from underneath Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”. They find that the supply of warm water to the glacier is larger than previously thought, triggering concerns of faster melting and accelerating ice flow.

With the help of the uncrewed submarine Ran that made its way under Thwaites glacier front, the researchers have made a number of new discoveries. Professor Karen Heywood of the University of East Anglia commented:

“This was Ran’s first venture to polar regions and her exploration of the waters under the ice shelf was much more successful than we had dared to hope. We plan to build on these exciting findings with further missions under the ice next year.”

The submersible has, among other things, measured the strength, temperature, salinity and oxygen content of the ocean currents that go under the glacier.

Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, says Anna Wåhlin, professor of oceanography at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of the new study now published in Science Advances.

Impacts global sea level

The ice sheet in West Antarctica accounts for about ten percent of the current rate of sea level rise; but also the ice in West Antarctica holds the most potential for increasing that rate because the fastest changes worldwide are taking place in the Thwaites Glacier. Due to its location and shape, Thwaites is particularly sensitive to warm and salty ocean currents that are finding their way underneath it.

This process can lead to an accelerated melting taking place at the bottom of the glacier and inland movement of the so-called grounding zone, the area where the ice transitions from resting on the seabed to floating in the ocean.

Due to its inaccessible location, far from research stations, in an area that is usually blocked by thick sea ice and many icebergs, there has been a great shortage of in situ measurements from this area. This means that there are big knowledge gaps for the ice-ocean boundary processes in this region.

First measurements performed

In the study, the researchers present the results from the submersible that measured strength, temperature, salinity and oxygen content of the ocean currents that go under the glacier.

“These were the first measurements ever performed beneath Thwaites glacier”, says Anna Wåhlin.

The results have been used to map the ocean currents underneath the floating part of the glacier. The researchers discovered that there is a deep connection to the east through which deep water flows from Pine Island Bay, a connection that was previously thought to be blocked by an underwater ridge.

The research group has also measured the heat transport in one of the three channels that lead warm water towards Thwaites Glacier from the north. “The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren’t known to us before the research. Using sonars on the ship, nested with very high-resolution ocean mapping from Ran, we were able to find that there are distinct paths that water takes in and out of the ice shelf cavity, influenced by the geometry of the ocean floor” says Dr Alastair Graham, University of Southern Florida.

The value measured there, 0.8 TW, corresponds to a net melting of 75 km3 of ice per year, which is almost as large as the total basal melt in the entire ice shelf. Although the amount of ice that melts as a result of the hot water is not much compared to other global freshwater sources, the heat transport has a large effect locally and may indicate that the glacier is not stable over time.

Not sustainable over time

The researchers also noted that large amounts of meltwater flowed north away from the front of the glacier.

Variations in salinity, temperature and oxygen content indicate that the area under the glacier is a previously unknown active area where different water masses meet and mix with each other, which is important for understanding the melting processes at the base of the ice.

The observations show warm water approaching from all sides on pinning points, critical locations where the ice is connected to the seabed and give stability to the ice shelf. Melting around these pinning points may lead to instability and retreat of the ice shelf and, subsequently, the upstream glacier flowing off the land. Dr Rob Larter of the British Antarctic Survey commented:

“This work highlights that how and where warm water impacts Thwaites Glacier is influenced by the shape of the sea floor and the ice-shelf base as well as the properties of the water itself. The successful integration of new sea-floor survey data and observations of water properties from the Ran missions shows the benefits of the multidisciplinary ethos within the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.”

“The good news is that we are now, for the first time, collecting data that is necessary to model the dynamics of Thwaite’s glacier. This data will help us better calculate ice melting in the future. With the help of new technology, we can improve the models and reduce the great uncertainty that now prevails around global sea level variations.” says Anna Wåhlin.

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From EurekAlert!

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AWG
April 10, 2021 2:07 pm

I constantly marvel at the huge amounts of money that get thrown at projects such as these. Its like there is infinite money and no problems, so we go on elaborate spiritual expeditions of discovery to find something to worry about.

The Earth and the inhabitants somehow made it through millennia without knowing not only that warm water melts glaciers, but that we can now fret about it as if it is something that can be changed, and should be.

Izaak Walton
Reply to  AWG
April 10, 2021 5:49 pm

AWG,
What counts as a huge amount of money? Compared the total global GDP the amount spent on scientific research is tiny. Jeff Bezos for example made 64 billion in 2020 thanks to COVID lockdowns. Just think how many submarines trips could be made if there was a weath tax on COVID related profits.

Redge
Reply to  Izaak Walton
April 10, 2021 11:52 pm

Shouldn’t your proposed wealth tax be distributed to owners of businesses that were put out of business due to COVID?

Hang on, won’t Amazon pay more tax on the extra profit anyway?

Or are you proposing a windfall tax similar to the one off windfall tax (that became a £5b yearly grab) Tony Blairs UK Government imposed on the pensions industry which destroyed the pension pots of millions of people?

I guess it’s a moot point since Amazon pay so little tax anyway.

ResourceGuy
April 10, 2021 2:13 pm

How do I interpret “worse than we thought” and “For the first time, researchers have been able to obtain data from underneath Thwaites Glacier” ? But then the intended audience is not supposed to interpret anything.

Scissor
April 10, 2021 2:15 pm

With this new single data point, they conclude. “It’s worse than we thought.”

Notanacademic
Reply to  Scissor
April 10, 2021 2:42 pm

It is worse than we thought, as I type this in Rosendale England global warming is falling and is four inches deep. In the morning I going to have a global warming fight with the local kids while my wife make’s a global warming angel.

Meanwhile in France frost has destroyed the vines so your favourite wine might be more expensive this year.

CAGW my a*se.

Scissor
Reply to  Notanacademic
April 10, 2021 4:17 pm

It could actually be worse.

Redge
Reply to  Scissor
April 10, 2021 11:54 pm

But, but, but….that’s weather, caused by climate change/weirding/crisis/blah blah

Scissor
Reply to  Notanacademic
April 10, 2021 4:21 pm

Bill Gates is jealous.

Notanacademic
Reply to  Scissor
April 10, 2021 10:23 pm

Yes I bet he is. No geoengineering required, please leave it alone Bill.

Notanacademic
Reply to  Notanacademic
April 10, 2021 11:15 pm

Global warming update, it’s now nine inches deep and minus 2c. More is forecast for this afternoon and tomorrow. Funny stuff this global warming I wasn’t expecting to need my coat and woolly hat so much.

Climate believer
Reply to  Notanacademic
April 11, 2021 4:31 am

Things really hotting up for central Brittany (France) with 2cm of global warming™ this morning.

snow brittany April 2021.png
Notanacademic
Reply to  Climate believer
April 11, 2021 7:08 am

Bad news for wine makers and drinkers.

Climate believer
Reply to  Notanacademic
April 11, 2021 8:50 am

Bretons are more into their cider, but we’ve been having some serious frosts in wine regions too. Their efforts to save the buds are quite spectacular. (sorry off topic)

Last edited 1 month ago by Climate believer
Notanacademic
Reply to  Climate believer
April 11, 2021 9:46 am

That must be hard work keeping them burning all night long and for several nights. Hope their efforts aren’t for nothing. Truly an amazing effort. Off topic yes but wine and possible lack thereof is an important topic.

Last edited 1 month ago by Notanacademic
taxed
Reply to  Scissor
April 10, 2021 4:30 pm

l have been watching the global jet stream during our current low sun spot activity and the effects its appeals to be having on the jet stream is “worse then l thought”. Not only does it cause the jet stream to become more wavy, but also to split and scatter it over a larger surface area. This set up increases the risk of harder winters in N America and europe.

ResourceGuy
April 10, 2021 2:19 pm

Was RAN told about this?……

S_stddev_timeseries.png (1050×840) (wp.com)

The synthetic was probably told not to look and not to tell the whole story.

yirgach
April 10, 2021 2:45 pm

The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren’t known to us before the research.

Maybe a bit of twisted anthro science going on here?

Last edited 1 month ago by yirgach
fred250
Reply to  yirgach
April 10, 2021 10:55 pm

True, The large number of volcanoes below West Antarctica was only discovered recently.

Robber
April 10, 2021 2:57 pm

“Hot water”, “warm water”, what is the temperature under all that ice?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Robber
April 10, 2021 3:22 pm

Even those with below average IQs would not be willing take a bath in that “hot water” if they were told the actual temperature.

cirby
Reply to  Robber
April 10, 2021 3:29 pm

A degree or two above freezing, apparently.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Robber
April 10, 2021 5:16 pm

I don’t see any bikinis in the picture. Might be zero degrees hot?

Climate believer
Reply to  Robber
April 10, 2021 11:51 pm

“Due to its inaccessible location, far from research stations, in an area that is usually blocked by thick sea ice and many icebergs”

…err I’m no scientist but on my layman’s scale of cold, I’d say somewhere between the balls of a brass monkey and the tit of a witch.

ATheoK
April 10, 2021 3:00 pm

They find that the supply of warm water to the glacier is larger than previously thought,”

Quelle surprise!
/s

We could have told them that and they wouldn’t have had to get their toy wet.

The research group has also measured the heat transport in one of the three channels that lead warm water towards Thwaites Glacier from the north.”

Really!?

Measured, i.e. actually calculated, the heat transport.
Likely using a thermistor mounted on their toy coupled with their ‘estimates’ of water flow.

The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren’t known to us before the research.”

Because they didn’t know about these specific channels, the end result must be worse… Right…

April 10, 2021 3:02 pm

Since the previously unknown source water coming from Pine Island Bay is influenced by local meteorological conditions (11) and Pine Island Glacier (27) melting, these results indicate that the future melt rate of Thwaites and ice dynamic feedbacks may depend more on local conditions in the Pine Island region, as well as the evolving ice pinning points at Thwaites (28, 29), than predicted by existing models

Out of the paper

Sara
April 10, 2021 3:09 pm

What are the ACTUAL water temperatures under that ice?????

Only asking because when I make iced tea, the glaciers that find their way into my Big Mug after I take them out of the glacier-making trays seem to get into a melty-type of state that keeps the tea cool and just slightly increases the potable volume in my Big Mug.

Now, that’s direct observation (meaning it’s right in front of me), and the tea is left over from the night before, in the teapot, so it isn’t particularly chilled, and the temperature differences between the tea and the ice – er, GLACIERS!!! GLACIERS!!! – is definitely there, and the melting glaciers make my ice tea chilly and pleasant to drink on a hot day…. if we’d just have a hot day…. and some lemon wedges.

Clyde Spencer
April 10, 2021 3:27 pm

The authors correctly observe:

“Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,”

And then they describe their adventures under the floating ice, which has already displaced as much water as it will contribute when it melts. That is, nothing!

Implicit in the concern about how existing ice might influence the ice on land, is the oft repeated but poorly supported conjecture that the floating ice acts as an effective buttress to the ice on land. If that were the case, one would not see tension cracks on land, near the coast, or in the pack ice often frozen to the glaciers. The friction between the glacial ice and the bedrock is the dominant controller of the glacier movement, not the floating ice that has the same forward momentum as the ice still on land.

Steve Case
April 10, 2021 4:20 pm

They find that the supply of warm water to the glacier is larger than previously thought, triggering concerns …blah … blah … blah … blah … blah …

From my file of factoids, quotes and smart remarks:

If the Climate Change headline says, 
 “Worse than previously thought” 
Historical data is being re-written.

In this case there isn’t much in the way of historical data, but it’s probably a few degrees above zero Celsius – Or in other words just as it has always been.

April 10, 2021 4:34 pm

So they are comparing data to what they thought and concluding that it’s worse than it was.
Or, what they thought was wrong.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Sam Grove
April 11, 2021 6:00 am

I’ll take the second sentence for 100,000, guest host.

Editor
April 10, 2021 4:35 pm

These warm currents are not new. They have been there all the time. So, from the Thwaites Glacier’s point of view, nothing has changed. Climate scientists have become a tiny fraction less ignorant, that’s all. And I really do mean tiny.

AndyHce
Reply to  Mike Jonas
April 10, 2021 8:00 pm

Looking back 12,000 years ago or so, there was a great deal more ice in many places that there is today. General sea level was apparently 360 feet or so lower. The ice melted for reasons not well understood beyond the fact that something made it too warm for the ice to continue to exist. There is also evidence that sea level in many places has gone up and down several meters in the millennia since then.

Since it happened before, there is no way to say it could not happen again. There is evidence that some such changes have happened pretty rapidly relative to human lifetimes. Studying how, to determine why, might be rather enlightening.

The possibility of profound effects upon human life seem evident so, like accurate weather forecasting, understanding could be valuable. None of that says people can do anything about it but forewarned, people might do something about some of the impacts.

Yes, all sorts of maybes, possibilities, etc. Isn’t that what science is generally about?

David A
Reply to  Mike Jonas
April 11, 2021 6:41 am

Yes, or something has changed, but being their first look they can’t know. Yet, if that change is simply increased thermally active geology, it has zero to to with anybodys SUV. It is highly unlikely that anybodys SUV warmed the ocean currents.

Last edited 1 month ago by David A
Christopher Hanley
April 10, 2021 4:46 pm

“… Thwaites is particularly sensitive to warm and salty ocean currents that are finding their way underneath it …”.
Maybe the warm water underneath the glacier is geothermal in origin.

Reply to  Christopher Hanley
April 11, 2021 12:59 am

particularly sensitive

Have we entered the age of quantum climastrology now? Suddenly we have a new doomsday mechanism, that came into being when their submarine collapsed the wave function, giving reality to these warm currents.
It truly is worse than I ever thought!

BrianB
Reply to  paranoid goy
April 11, 2021 4:07 pm

Quantum climastrology and a doomsday mechanism eh? Sounds like a Blofeld operation;
The Quantum of Seaice.

Geoff Sherrington
April 10, 2021 5:29 pm

Why is so much more written about the flow of hot water than the flow of cold water?
Geoff S

ross
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
April 10, 2021 5:43 pm

Because there is no funding for cold it means no exciting free trips.

April 10, 2021 5:34 pm

All ice melt events are not atmospheric phenomena. That claim must be supported with data and not assumed.

https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/02/09/antarctica-threatens-florida/

Ron Long
April 10, 2021 6:02 pm

I was going to jump all over this foolishness, but first read the comments, and the astute Watts readers are pummeling these idiots about the head and shoulders in fine fashion. So, never mind.

April 10, 2021 6:45 pm

Can somebody explain this paragraph?

“The ice sheet in West Antarctica accounts for about ten percent of the current rate of sea level rise; but also the ice in West Antarctica holds the most potential for increasing that rate because the fastest changes worldwide are taking place in the Thwaites Glacier.”

AndyHce
Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
April 10, 2021 8:17 pm

They claim that changes with Thwaites are happening significantly faster than ice mass changes anywhere else on the planet – because of the relatively warm water flowing underneath the ice shelf.

If you paid attention to the geography described you should be able to understand that melting or breaking up and floating away of the ice shelf could produce a much more rapid flow of the glacier itself into the sea. If whatever source is currently providing melting heat continues to provide heat after the removal of the ice shelf, real sea level rising water would be created by that glacier advance also melting. If corresponding snow fall and ice buildup doesn’t occur elsewhere, seal level would probably rise rapidly (relative to today’s rates). This could be fast enough to effect humans in many parts of the world. A major portion of total world population lives on the lowlands near oceans. Really large amounts of infrastructure has been built quite near to the ocean.

David Guy-Johnson
Reply to  AndyHce
April 11, 2021 1:42 am

You and they said “it could affect”. So basically you and they don’t know.

AndyHce
Reply to  David Guy-Johnson
April 12, 2021 12:34 am

NO but you ask “what doe they mean?”, not “is it really real?”.

Ossqss
April 10, 2021 7:29 pm

Inversely, nobody talks about Brine currents>>> Why?

cerescokid
April 10, 2021 7:34 pm

If they wanted to provide something of value they could have provided some baseline data for the water temperatures so that the current information could have some context. Pick any year. Say 1900 or 1800 and indicate how much the water has warmed since then. But they don’t and can’t. I get it. But they also haven’t shown anything has changed in the last 100 to 200 years. Just like all water temperature data. We really don’t have solid and reliable baseline readings. As far as I know it’s always been just like they found it.

Tedz
April 10, 2021 7:35 pm

The coverage of this topic is an example of scare science. There’ve been lots of comments in the media about “melting”, “warm water” etc etc and without mentioning the phrase “climate change” there’s a pause after those phrases for you to draw the inevitable unspoken link.

The reality is that if you’re going to build a Thwaites Glacier then the worst possible place to do so is where there’s a full scale working model.

As the University of Texas has explained in 2014;

“Don Blankenship, scientists of the University of Texas and one of the author of a recently published study, described the Thwaites Glacier as follows: The glacier “sits on something more like a multi-burner stovetop with burners putting out heat at different levels at different locations. … And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”

Which explains why the east antarctic ice sheet is accumulating ice – it hasn’t got a string of volcanos running through it…

Last edited 1 month ago by Tedz
April 10, 2021 8:54 pm

Have written about WAIS Thwaites many times before, here and elsewhere. There are two fundamental problems ignored by this ‘new’ study.

  1. It sits over a volcanic zone, shown by volcanic ash in its ice. Inherently unstable.
  2. Its ice shed ‘drainage field’ is much smaller than Warmunists imagine, so even if it was all lost to volcanism would comprise a minute additIon to SLR. That is true from basic Thwaites topography and surrounding sensored Amundsen Embayment total ice motions. Explained that in an ebook essay back in 2014. More Thwaites disinformation whack-a-mole.
Redge
Reply to  Rud Istvan
April 11, 2021 12:11 am

Which begs the question, why didn’t they take measurements for sulphur and iron?

Link to paper

Link to photos from the “cruise”

Mike Maguire
April 10, 2021 9:26 pm

A bit off topic but today is considered the anniversary of the biggest of a series of massive Tambora volcanic eruptions in the year 1815, that lasted 3 months. This resulted in global temperatures falling a bit less than 1 deg.C.

Objective scientists/agronomists know that global cooling does far greater harm than the current, slight mostly beneficial warming. The recent, entirely beneficial increase in CO2 has rescued life from dangerously low CO2 levels.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

“The year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer (also the Poverty Year and Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death)[1] because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1 °F).[2] Summer temperatures in Europe were the coldest on record between the years of 1766–2000.[3] This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.[4]
Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in April in the Dutch East Indies (known today as Indonesia). This eruption was the largest in at least 1,300 years (after the hypothesized eruption causing the extreme weather events of 535–536), and perhaps exacerbated by the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Philippines.”

The Year Without a Summer was an agricultural disaster. Historian John D. Post has called this “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world”

Charles Fairbairn
April 11, 2021 1:34 am

One only has to look at a map of Antarctica to see that the main bulk of the ice lies in the East. The Western area sitting over a volcanically active tectonic rift, to me explains why there is relatively less ice. I calls to mind a frying pan sitting halfway on the hot plate.

The figure of 0.8 TW mentioned here, I suspect, is more conjecture than measurement; dangerous to be used as a variable in calculations and appears small to me.

All I hope is that this research drags the scientific community away from its current obsession with CO2 and leads to sensible considerations of alternative influences such as this in seeking to explain the climate.

Currently what happens beneath our feet involving the movements of magma etc. is largely unknown wrt the influences on the climate. The Mindset needs to be changed.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
April 11, 2021 5:51 am

Does anyone besides the twits at EAU call Thwaites the “Doomsday Glacier?” They really are fixated on how to make something out of nothing to try and prove we are all gonna die. Their breathless babbling betrays their insecurity.

Bruce Cobb
April 11, 2021 10:01 am

“Doomsday Glacier” would make a great title for a sci-fi movie. A small, intrepid team of scientists are busy studying the Thwaites Glacier, monitoring it for any changes, when one of them starts noticing things happening, then others. Then they try to alert the world, but nobody will listen. Then, there’s a chain reaction, setting off Thermageddon. Now to figure out who to cast for it, budgeting, etc.
Cha-chingggg!!!!!

Harri Luuppala
April 11, 2021 11:05 am

”Satellite reveals surprising ebb and flow of subglacial lakes under Thwaites Glacier”.

”…an unexpected discovery about how lakes beneath Thwaites Glacier drain and recharge in quick succession.”

”A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in December 2020 describes how a decade of radar altimetry observations have revealed a network of four subglacial lakes under Thwaites Glacier”

https://thwaitesglacier.org/news/satellite-insight-subglacial-lakes

Last edited 1 month ago by Harri Luuppala
guard4her
April 11, 2021 12:20 pm

Worse than we thought is obvious spin. Nothing these people say can be trusted.

April 11, 2021 2:18 pm

The export of cold deep ocean currents from Antarctica is increasing, not decreasing. Talk of warming and melt in Antarctica is wishful thinking only.

https://ptolemy2.wordpress.com/2020/09/12/widespread-signals-of-southern-hemisphere-ocean-cooling-as-well-as-the-amoc/

April 11, 2021 6:55 pm

I follow the temperature at the Doomsday Glacier or more precisely The West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Right now, the temperature there is balmy -41 C. I saw with amazement one year ago when a BBC reporter reported from there about global warming while he suffered from hypothermia in a snowstorm. The irony with this was not apparent for BBC. The researchers made a hole in the Shelf Ice down to the water beneath. One other thing I noticed were the expensive equipment they used. Climate scientists don’t suffer from lack of funds.

Mark Hansford
April 12, 2021 6:29 am

Would it be too much to hope that it snows in Cornwall in June for the G7 conference – that would be much harder to explain away. However as a Brit with the French seemingly hating us over Brexit and Macron spitting feathers at us – I cant say I feel much sympathy

LT3
April 12, 2021 9:24 am

They failed to mention that these upwelling currents come from a depth as much as 800 meters

Steve Z
April 12, 2021 1:33 pm

For a glacier that is floating on the ocean, whether it melts or remains frozen has no effect on sea level, because floating ice already displaces its weight in water. People have known this since the time of Archimedes.

Ocean currents under sea ice will have no effect on land-based ice.

So what’s the problem?

Steve Garcia
April 15, 2021 6:17 pm

If this study is looking at the W Antarctic area, and only that, this is nonsense. WAP is a tiny bit of the continent and it means little. But the US is stationed there, so American scientists sturdy there and then extrapolate their numbers to the rest of Antarctica without taking into much besides the ratio of WAP to the rest of Antarctica. The geography and ocean arrangement there is nothing like the vast expanse of East Antarctica, which has long, long straight coastlines of ice and large inland areas of ice cap. (It is very much apples and bananas.)

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