It’s really over this time. Yes the Thwaites glacier, aka the “Doomsday” Glacier, “could melt faster than previously thought”, says NBC’s “Climate In Crisis” department. If the name sounds familiar it should: it makes an appearance several times a year in the doomsday press and thereafter in our summaries thereof, always, you guessed it, melting faster than previously thought. This time it’s melting more slowly than it has in the past, but it’s also “Hanging on ‘By Its Fingernails,’ Scientists Say”. These being the sorts of scientist who say glaciers have fingernails, and even more strangely, intentions, such as to hold on for dear life for our sakes and despite our sins. In reality the glacier is just doing what glaciers do in the face of long geological processes, in this case at least two centuries long.
The behaviour of this glacier is old news. NASA’s “Jet Propulsion Laboratory” put out a photo of the late lamented Thwaites back in 2014, adding “These [West Antarctic Ice Sheet] glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected.” But melting faster than expected is no longer enough of a jolt, now the glaciers have to be barely holding on.
CBS yelled “Antarctica’s ‘doomsday glacier’ could raise global sea levels by 10 feet. Scientists say it’s ‘holding on today by its fingernails’” and explained that “The rapidly changing state of the glacier has alarmed scientists for years because of the ‘spine-chilling’ global implications of having so much additional water added to the Earth’s oceans, sparking its nickname of the ‘doomsday glacier.’”
Britain’s Daily Mail also went with the fingernail thing: “Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ is ‘holding on by its fingernails’”. And apparently “Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is ‘holding on by its fingernails’, experts say, after discovering that it has retreated twice as fast as previously thought over the past 200 years.”
Woah, hold on. What was that last line? They aren’t saying it is retreating faster now than it has in the past 200 years, they mean it has retreated much faster in the past than is happening today. Isn’t that a good sign? Of course not, this is climate change where everything is bad even when it isn’t. CBS’s explanation is that slower is worse than faster because it could get faster again:
“Looking at 160 parallel ridges that the glacier created as it retreated and moved along the ocean floor, scientists found that the glacier’s recently tracked rate of retreat is slower than what it’s been at times in the past…Over the course of 5.5 months at some point in the last 200 years, scientists found that the glacier retreated at a rate of more than 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) a year — twice the distance it retreated from 1996 to 2009 and three times the rate from 2011 to 2017. And while that may seem like a positive signal, it’s actually a sign that things could soon accelerate. ‘Similar rapid retreat pulses are likely to occur in the near future,’ the study says.”
Say, we’re actually back to the “natural variability“ thing again, right? Oddly the “Futurism” piece under a similar lurid headline said “The arctic [sic] ‘doomsday glacier,’ which some scientists believe could substantially increase sea levels, may soon start collapsing even faster than expected – and if that happens, all hell may break loose.” Meaning it’s not currently melting faster than expected.
We also remind you of a piece from Discover back in February claiming a “1,000-square-mile sheet of floating ice had tenaciously held fast to the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula” before mean people “delivered a death blow” with their hot breath. (As we commented at the time, “Brave ice. But then… a murder!”) There really is a strange element of anthropomorphism here except while Gaia tries to hang on for our sakes, we pound away at her so Nature is acting like a person while people are red in tooth and claw and dull in head.
By the way, some readers and viewers have expressed doubts that the glacier could really hold enough ice to have such an effect. And they’re right, since at 70,000 square kilometers it is very big (as big as Florida, but without the Burmese pythons) but not that big. However in the wacky world of global warming alarmism, everything is bad and triggers something worse, so the theory is that Thwaites is holding back a much bigger melt.
If the entire Antarctic ice cap melted it really would raise global sea levels by around 60 metres (200 feet) which would be a disaster of Biblical proportions. But the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, of which Thwaites is just one part, holds only enough ice to raise sea levels that 10 feet (3.2 metres) cited above. (This information comes to you courtesy of a Harvard study that says, guess what, “Global sea-level rise associated with the possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been significantly underestimated in previous studies, meaning the sea level in a warming world will be greater than anticipated” according to the Harvard Gazette.) Thwaites itself only has about “a whopping 25 inches“ of water rise in it.
ABC warned, and MSN reprinted, that the “‘Doomsday glacier’ could raise sea levels by 10 feet if melting continues”. True. Just as if grandma had wheels, she’d be a bus. So what’s with Thwaites and its fingernails? Well, the theory is that Thwaites, and the Pine Island Glacier next to it, are an ice plug in a bottle of melt misery, and if they go, the WAIS goes.
It might be worth noting here that nothing of the sort happened during previous Holocene warm periods. But that observation would spoil the fun. As would reading the fine print even in these stories.
For instance, ABC said, “Now, scientists are finding that the Thwaites glacier, also known as the ‘Doomsday glacier,’ is melting faster than previously thought as warm and dense deep water delivers heat to the present-day ice-shelf cavity and melts its ice shelves from below, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience on Monday.” So it’s not hot greenhouse gas-filled air, it’s warm water from the deep ocean. But that sort of geological process takes centuries to unfold. So the notion that anything we are doing caused it recently, and anything we stop doing could make it stop, invites the Duke of Wellington’s retort that “If you believe that, you’ll believe anything”. Even that glaciers have fingernails.