“Civilization’s most important glacier has revealed another worrying surprise to scientists,” Grist magazine eco-reporter Eric Holthaus told readers recently. “The Thwaites Glacier, the largest outflow channel of the vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, now has a gigantic subterranean hole.”
Yes, that Thwaites glacier!
The NASA scientists who discovered the hole think that most of it formed in the past three years.
“As huge as that sounds, it’s just a tiny fraction of the Florida-sized glacier, but it sends an ominous signal that the glacier’s collapse is proceeding faster than expected,” Holthaus, who commands a huge audience on his Twitter feed, said.
The discovery comes as an important international effort to study the Thwaites glacier kicks off.
A friend of this blogger, the award-winning environmental writer Elizabeth Rush, is at this very moment on board an international research vessel and serving as a writer-in-residence for America’s National Science Foundation. She is joining scientists from the United States and Great Britain aboard the R/V Nathaniel Palmer for a 50-day scientific “cruise” to the Thwaites Glacier in one of the most remote regions in the world.
The remote location makes conducting research on the glacier both difficult and of vital importance, according to the foundation. To date, only 28 people in the world have ever stood atop the Thwaites glacier. As a member of the ”International Thwaites Collaboration,” Rush will accompany three research teams as they investigate how quickly Thwaites has retreated in the past and how quickly it is retreating now.
As the research vessel left port in January 2019 and headed south to Antarctica, Rush sent out a tweet to one and all on her Twitter feed at @ElizabethARush saying: “Blast off!!!! We headed out of port today surrounded by something like 50 Sei whales, their spouts sending sweet explosions of mist sky-ward. I can think of no better send off.”
Later inside her cozy cabin, she tweeted: “Hanging above my desk on the boat is an awesome map of the R/V Nathaniel Palmer’s sea missions between 1992 and 2012.”
It’s 2019 and Rush is now at sea as you read this blog, and the Brown University professor is plannng to write a book about the Thwaites expedition and her adventures on the ship.
Dubbed the “Doomsday Glacier” by the news media, the Thwaites’ deterioration destabilizes the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is one of the largest potential contributors to sea level rise. The very rate at which Thwaites is melting will play a large role in determining the future of coastal communities around the world. Rush, the author of the essay collection “Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” is geting an ”up close and personal” view of the glacier this month and next.
Most likely, she is also taking notes for what will become her next book, still untitled. of a new literary genre called ”creative nonfiction.”
Her writing essays have appeared previously in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the New Republic, among other publications.
I’ll give up-and-coming doomsday prophet Eric Holthaus the last word.
“The melting of the Thwaites could lead to as much as 10 feet of sea level rise over the next century or so,” he told Grist readers in January. ”If we’re unlucky, much of that could happen the lifetimes of people alive today, flooding every coastal city on Earth and potentially grinding civilization to a halt.”
Hopefully, Elizabeth Rush will come back from the depths of Antarctica with a more hopeful message in her new book, slated for publication in 2022.
Rush plans to produce a creative nonfiction book that explores ice loss in Antarctica and its impact on those who devote their lives to better understanding this phenomenon. She will immerse herself in the Thwaites Glacier fieldwork this February and March. She will then later produce a collection of essays that bear witness to the changes physically transforming Antarctica and relay how those changes impact the polar scientists at the forefront of this research. Additionally, upon returning from Antarctica, she will design and teach a creative nonfiction writing workshop based on her Antarctica experience to help university students develop the skills necessary to communicate science to a broader public.
Aboard the researtch vessel as a writer-in-residence, Rush will have the opportunity to observe and interview scientists and better understand the field work of this major research effort and communicate its story to the public. Her goal is to document not just the physical transformations reshaping the Thwaites Glacier, but also the emotional, physical, spiritual and personal impact on those who are endeavoring to better understand these changes. Her unique perspective, focus and style will provide a distinctive addition to nonfiction work about Antarctica. It is anticipated that her dispatches, essays, and articles from her Antarctic experience will receive significant attention. Her book will be published by her American publisher Milkweed Editions.