Giant Iceberg Blocking Final Expedition to Assess 'Doomsday Glacier'

Research ships are having trouble accessing Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, or the "Doomsday Glacier," after a large iceberg blocked their path.

Thwaites Glacier, which is larger than the state of Florida, is losing significant levels of ice from its ice shelf, which will contribute to rising sea levels in the future, according to the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. Scientists from around the world have been trying to get to it as part of a $50 million effort to study the glacier and its deterioration while it is still Antarctic summer, when it is easier to reach, the Associated Press reported.

David Holland, an environmental scientist with New York University, told the AP the scientists aboard the research ship tried to cut through the iceberg for a week but were not able to make any progress, saying that "nobody can get to Thwaites this year."

While some glaciers are melting due to warm air above, Thwaites' ice shelf is melting due to warm water below, Holland told the AP. This causes the glacier to melt faster.

According to the ITGC, Thwaites has lost billions of tons of ice since the year 2000. Its ice loss is currently contributing to 4 percent of sea level rise around the world. If the full glacier were to collapse, sea levels would increase by more than two feet.

Scientists say that a sea level rise like this could take hundreds of years, though Holland told the AP it would eventually "rewrite the global coastline."

He added that while some "natural weather variations" have contributed to the melting, climate change is also making the situation worse, as greenhouse gases "are tilting the winds in a way that's bringing more warm water south."

Holland and other scientists planned to study the warm water beneath the glacier, the AP reported. As Thwaites melts, more icebergs like the one blocking the researchers' path are formed. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this iceberg is nearly the same size as Rhode Island.

Instead of reaching Thwaites' ice shelf, some like Holland have gone to the nearby Dotson ice shelf to study the warm water beneath it.

Thwaites is referred to as the "Doomsday Glacier" because of the environmental impact it could have if it were to collapse and drag down nearby glaciers with it. Ella Gilbert, postdoctoral research associate in climate science at the University of Reading, said in The Conversation if that were to happen, sea levels could rise by several meters.

She said a sea level rise of this magnitude would "inundate many of the world's major cities – including Shanghai, New York, Miami, Tokyo and Mumbai," adding that low-lying island nations like Kiribati and the Maldives would also be swallowed up.

In the AP report, officials said while plans to study Thwaites have been "sidetracked a bit," they have not stopped.

Dotson Ice Shelf, Antarctica
A large iceberg broke off the deteriorating Thwaites glacier and, along with sea ice, it is blocking two research ships with dozens of scientists from examining how fast its crucial ice shelf is falling apart. Above, this photo provided by environmental scientist David Holland shows tents set up on the Dotson Ice Shelf in Antarctica on Monday, January 31. David Holland via AP