An alarming crack has appeared in the front of Antarctica’s doomsday glacier. It could cause it to break apart in five years.

It is part of Thwaites Glacier and it measures the same size as Florida. The melting account for approximately four percent global sea-level rise.

New data, released on Monday, shows warming oceans is causing the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf (TEIS) to lose its grip on the submarine shoal, or bank, that acts as a pinning point to hold it to the rest of the glacier – which is also causing cracks across its surface.

At the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting, satellite images showed several diagonal cracks that extend across TEIS.

The researchers explained that if this floating ice shelf is broken apart, Thwaites Glacier’s contribution to sea-level rise could accelerate. 

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Satellite images presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union show several large, diagonal cracks extending across the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf, which are caused by warming oceans

At the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting, satellite images showed several large diagonal cracks that extend across Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf. These cracks are due to warming oceans

Professor Ted Scambos (US coordinator of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration) stated that there will be a dramatic shift in glacier’s front in less than 10 years.

This direction is evident in both published and unpublished research.

“This will increase the speed (of Thwaites), and effectively widen the dangerous portion of the glacier.

Lead author of the study, Erin Pettit from Oregon State University, compares the growing crack to that seen in a windshield – one small bump to the car and the windshield could break into hundreds of pieces.

Part of the Thwaites Glacier, it is the size of Florida and its melting accounts for about four percent of the global sea level rise. The Earth's crust is only 10-15 miles deep under West Antarctica, where the Thwaites Glacier (pictured) is located

It is part of the Thwaites Glacier and it has a melting rate of about 4 percent. Below West Antarctica (pictured), the Earth’s crust only covers 10-15 miles.

If the shelf is destroyed, Thwaites Glacier’s eastern third melts at a faster rate.

Pettit stated that this would increase the speed of the glacier and bring its contribution to the global sea level to five percent in the near future.

“We have identified weaker and more powerful areas on the ice shelf, and suggested a zig-zag pathway that fractures could take through the rock, eventually leading to the breakup of the shelf within as little as five years. This would result in more of the continent flowing,” the team stated in its abstract.

TEIS’s central section has no apparent surface crevasses, smooth surface topography and only the surface expression of a pronounced basin channel that is parallel to iceflow. Ground-penetrating radar reveals a thin zone of ice with complex basal topography. This is despite the surface being smooth.

Climate change is not the only culprit here, but a study in August found that Thwaites Glacier is also melting because of the heat from Earth itself. When the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will melt at an even more rapid pace

The problem is not solely due to climate change. However, a August study found that Thwaites glacier is melting as a result of heat from Earth. The eastern third of Thwaites Glacier, which is the main shelf that will fail, will melt faster if it fails.

“This disequilibrium local suggests that there are elevated vertical shear stress, which further weakens this crucial part of the Ice Shelf.”

The problem isn’t solely due to climate change. However, a August study found that Thwaites Glacier was also melting from the Earth’s heat.

The Thwaites Glacier — which has been called the ‘Doomsday Glacier’ due to its impact on sea level rise — is being hit with heat from the Earth’s crust, as it is only 10 to 15 miles deep below West Antarctica, compared to around 25 miles in East Antarctica.

The study’s principal author Dr Ricarda Daziadek stated in a statement that this resulted in a “geothermal heat flux of up to 150 mW per square meter.”

According to the New York Times’ 2017 analysis, which used data from NASA JPL, at least 600 Billion Tons of ice has been lost since 1980.

‘The temperature on the underside of the glacier is dependent on a number of factors – for example whether the ground consists of compact, solid rock, or of meters of water-saturated sediment,’ explained co-author and AWI geophysicist Dr Karsten Gohl.

Water is a very efficient conductor of rising heat. However, it is also capable of transporting heat energy away so that it does not reach the bottom. 


Thwaites glacier is slightly smaller than the total size of the UK, approximately the same size as the state of Washington, and is located in the Amundsen Sea.

It measures up to 4000m (13,100ft) thick and can be used for projections about global sea-level rise.

In the face of warming ocean, the glacier is receding. It is believed to be unstable as its interior is more than 2 km (1.2 mi) below the sea level, while the coastal bottom is very shallow.

The Thwaites glacier is the size of Florida and is located in the Amundsen Sea. It is up to 4,000 meters thick and is considered a key in making projections of global sea level rise

It is approximately the same size as Florida’s Thwaites Glacier and can be found in the Amundsen Sea. It can reach up to 4,000m in thickness and is used as a reference point for global sea-level rise projections.

Significant flow acceleration has been observed in Thwaites glacier since the 1970s.

The Thwaites grounding line centre retreated nearly 14 kilometers (nine mi) between 1992 and 2011.

The annual ice release from the region has been increasing by 77% since 1973.

Because its interior connects to the vast portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that lies deeply below sea level, the glacier is considered a gateway to the majority of West Antarctica’s potential sea level contribution.

Thwaites Glacier’s collapse would result in an increase in the global sea level by one to two metres (3-3 and 6 feet), and potentially more than twice the amount from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.