Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica
Location of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Photo credit:

“It will take decades, not centuries.”

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The Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized mass of ice at the coast of Western Antarctica, has been called the “doomsday glacier” because of its potential to wreak havoc all by itself.

For example, consider its size:

The Thwaites Glacier is about the size of Florida. Photo credit: VOX / Youtube

This Vox video from 2020 gives a good, if too-calming view of the process by which Thwaites has been disappearing for decades.

“How soon that happens is hotly debated” says the narrator at 3:33. That was in 2020. Not so much anymore.

‘It Will Take Decades, Not Centuries’

From CNN on May 21 (via the excellent climate news aggregator, The Collapse Chronicle):

Ocean water is rushing miles underneath the ‘Doomsday Glacier’ with potentially dire impacts on sea level rise

…Thwaites, which already contributes 4 percent to global sea level rise, holds enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 2 feet. But because it also acts as a natural dam to the surrounding ice in West Antarctica, scientists have estimated its complete collapse could ultimately lead to around 10 feet of sea level rise — a catastrophe for the world’s coastal communities.

Many studies have pointed to the immense vulnerabilities of Thwaites. Global warming, driven by humans burning fossil fuels, has left it hanging on “by its fingernails,” according to a 2022 study.

CNN doesn’t link to the study. The UC Irvine announcement is here. The paper itself is here.

The lead author, Eric Rignot, has been quoted as saying, “The projections will go up … [The collapse] will take many decades, not centuries. Part of the answer also depends on whether our climate keeps getting warmer or not.”

Needless to say, the climate keeps getting warmer. And don’t trust the word “many.” He’s trying not to scare you too much.

Our Bet with the Future

No one says this will happen immediately. “Decades” are still not next year. But global sea surface temperatures are setting new records, and at an accelerating pace.

Daily Sea Surface Temperature, World

Photo credit: Climate Reanalyzer

As you can imagine, there’s a certain freaking out caused by this, more so from scientists (see also here and here) than from those who owe their lives to the moneyed class.

In how “many decades” could this all occur? My money’s on two or three; the mid-2040s or 50s.

Global Sea Level Rise vs. Sea Levels Near You

Whatever the time scale for Thwaites’s complete collapse, the change it will bring won’t be smooth, but sudden, in stages. If a Florida-sized chunk of ice that’s not submerged, suddenly falls into the sea, it will raise sea level globally — on its own — by as much as two feet.

And that rise won’t be well distributed. The sea near New York, for example, will rise 1½ times the global average:

The Thwaites collapse, when it comes, will change everything. And the Western Antarctic collapse, following that, will ice the rest of the cake. The first could come in the next twenty years or so — remember, everything’s accelerating.

And the second… Well, when that arrives may not matter at all, given how scrambled our eggs will be by then.

The Solution

The solution, of course, is action of a “vigorous” kind. The State, of course, knows this far better than most. That’s why it’s been gearing up. We’ll look at that soon.

Published with the permission of Thomas Neuburger. A version of this piece originally appeared in his newsletter site “God’s Spies.


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