Antarctica’s so-called “doomsday glacier” — given the ominous nickname because of its high risk of collapse and threat to global sea levels and the economy — has the potential to rapidly retreat within five years. That’s more quickly than the scientists first studying the glacier’s demise in the 1970s believed, a study released Monday, and past findings, suggest.
Officially known as the Thwaites Glacier, the ice formation, if detached, is capable of pushing up sea levels by several feet. “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small time scales 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 a release. Why does it matter? Higher seas could cost both developed and developing nations in lost lives, lost business and recovery costs. A Deloitte analysis shows that insufficient action on climate change and global warming could cost the U.S. economy alone $14.5 trillion in the next 50 years. A loss of this scale is equivalent to nearly 4% of GDP or $1.5 trillion in 2070 alone.
Rán, an autonomous underwater vehicle key to climate change research in Antarctica, floats amid sea ice in front of Thwaites Glacier. It had just completed a 20-hour mission mapping the seafloor.