Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ is fighting an invisible battle against the inner Earth, new study finds

By Brandon Specktor about 8 hours ago

Underground heat is cooking the Thwaites Glacier from below, and could push it closer to collapse.

Antarctica's Twaites Glacier, climate change, ice melt

Antarctica’s Twaites Glacier is facing an assault of heat from the sky, the sea and deep underground. (Image credit: NASA)

West Antarctica is one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth. For evidence, you need look no further than Thwaites Glacier — also known as the “Doomsday Glacier.”

Since the 1980s, Thwaites has lost an estimated 595 billion tons (540 billion metric tons) of ice, single-handedly contributing 4% to the annual global sea-level rise during that time, Live Science previously reported. The glacier’s rate of ice loss has accelerated substantially in the past three decades, partially due to hidden rivers of comparatively warm seawater slicing across the glacier’s underbelly, as well as unmitigated climate change warming the air and the ocean.

Now, new research suggests that the warming ocean and atmosphere aren’t the only factors pushing Thwaites to the brink; the heat of the Earth itself may also be giving West Antarctica’s glaciers a disproportionately nasty kick.

In a study published Aug. 18 in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, researchers analyzed geomagnetic field data from West Antarctica to create new maps of geothermal heat flow in the region — essentially, maps showing how much heat from Earth’s interior is rising up to warm the South Pole.

The researchers found that the crust beneath West Antarctica is considerably thinner than in East Antarctica — roughly 10 to 15 miles (17 to 25 kilometers) thick in the West compared with about 25 miles (40 km) thick in the East — exposing Thwaites Glacier to considerably more geothermal heat than glaciers on the other side of the continent.

“Our measurements show that where the Earth’s crust is only 17 to 25 kilometers thick, geothermal heat flow of up to 150 milliwatts per square meter can occur beneath Thwaites Glacier,” lead study author Ricarda Dziadek, a geophysicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, said in a statement.

Because West Antarctica sits in an oceanic trench, the crust beneath the seabed is much thinner than the crust below East Antarctica. Scientists have long suspected that this comparatively thin crust must be absorbing more heat from the planet’s upper mantle (which experiences average temperatures of 392 degrees Fahrenheit, or 200 degrees Celsius), impacting the formation and evolution of glaciers there over millions of years.

In the new study, the researchers quantified that difference in heat flow for the first time. Using a variety of magnetic field datasets, the team calculated the distance between the crust and the mantle at various spots throughout Antarctica, as well as the relative heat flow in those areas.

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It’s hard to tell exactly how warm the glacier is where the ice meets the seabed, as different types of rock conduct heat differently — however, the researchers said, it’s clear that this extra supply of heat in the West can only mean bad news for Thwaites.

“Large amounts of geothermal heat can, for example, lead to the bottom of the glacier bed no longer freezing completely or to a constant film of water forming on its surface,” study co-author Karsten Gohl, also a geologist at AWI, said in the statement. Either of these conditions could cause the glacier’s ice to slide more easily over the ground, causing the glacier’s ice loss to “accelerate considerably,” Gohl added.RELATED CONTENT

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A scenario like that could put the Doomsday Glacier’s name to the test; if Thwaites Glacier were to entirely collapse into the ocean, global sea levels would rise by about 25 inches (65 centimeters), devastating coastline communities around the world, Live Science previously reported. What’s more, without the glacier plugging the edge of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet like a cork in a bottle of wine, ice loss could accelerate dramatically in the entire region, leading to unprecedented levels of sea level rise.

Researchers will soon have a chance to further hone their measurements of the heat flow below Antarctica. A major international research project is currently underway at the South Pole, including missions to drill ice cores that stretch down to the bed of Thwaites Glacier. Heat flow measurements from these core samples could give scientists a better idea of how much time is left on the Doomsday Glacier’s ticking clock.

Photos capture alarming melt of Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker

by Michelle Esteban, KOMO News reporter/anchorTuesday, July 13th 2021AA 90% 3VIEW ALL PHOTOSThe Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker is melting rapidly as seen in pictures captured from a local photographer. (KOMO)

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New images reveal the drastic change that’s happening on Mount Baker.

The “Coleman Glacier” is not what it used to be.

A local photographer who has photographed every glacier in the lower 48 for geologists and glaciologists was so stunned by what he saw – that he shared it on social media.

“I was fascinated by mountains and mountain processes,” said photographer John Scurlock, who is also a pilot that gets up close from the cockpit of his van known as VR-6.

“I literally have photographed that mountain 100,000 times,” Scurlock said during an interview Tuesday at a waterfront park on Bainbridge Island.

He’s talking about Mount Baker, the icon of the North Cascades. There’s one feature on the mountain he has captured every year for 20 years. The Coleman Glacier is a mass of ice on the northwest face of the mountain.

“Coleman glacier is one of the great glaciers on Mount Baker,” Scurlock said. “It’s magnificent on the face of it.”

But it’s shrinking.

Maybe more than most realize on a mountain that tops out over 10,700 feet. And faster than Scurlock ever imagined, especially when he snapped a shot of it back in 2003.

Now compare it to what he saw Saturday. The change is remarkable.

The glacier has retreated significantly right up the mountain. The toe of the glacier in 2003 was much closer to glacier creek, now it’s much farther north. A side by side comparison shows just how much.

“I invite people to make their own conclusion. I don’t need to tell people how they see it,” Scurlock said, who urges people to be curious and listen to what scientists are telling us. “It is also an intriguing barometer on the state of glaciers all over the range of the North Cascades.” 90% Newly released photos are testament to the ice melt that has occurred on the Coleman Glacier.

“If one picture is worth a 1,000 words, if you pair it with one of Scurlock’s it’s got to be worth a million,” Dr. Jon Redel said via Zoom at his home near Mount Baker.

Riedel said the comparing the glacier from 2003 to 2021 gave him pause.

He just retired from the National Park Service at North Cascades National Park, and has watched Mount Baker for decades. He’s relied on Scurlock’s photos to help him with his research of glacial history and it’s response to climate change – going back 30,000 years to the last ice age.

His work includes tracking melt and runoff with an emphasis on Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and the Olympic mountain range.

He’s relied on Scurlock’s glacier images to help do that work.

“That change is there, that glacier change is so dramatic,” Riedel said after looking at Scurlock’s images.

He called them a dramatic indicator of climate change that has an impact on everyone.

“Climate affects everything, pests, disease, agriculture salmon, runoff, we’re learning it has effects on electricity, those things all affects all of us,” Riedel said.

Riedel said one of the biggest impact is on fresh water – glaciers feed our lakes and rivers at times like right now when we have little rainfall.

It took Scurlock 11 years to tag every glacier, his pictures are being used by researches from universities to the USGS.

“It’s long term, broad in scope, so gradual that people don’t see it on a day to day basis but it’s there,” Scurlock said.

Satellites show world’s glaciers melting faster than ever

This September 2017 photo provided by researcher Brian Menounos shows the Klinaklini glacier in British Columbia, Canada. The glacier and the adjacent icefield lost about 15 gigatons of water from 2000-2019, Menounos says. And the rate of loss accelerated over the last five years of the study. (Brian Menounos via AP)
FILE - This May 9, 2020 file photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The U.S. Forest Service says the glacier, often reached by trail or by crossing Mendenhall Lake, is retreating. According to a study released on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in the journal Nature, the world's 220,000 glaciers are melting faster now than in the 2000s. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
FILE - This Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015 file photo shows the Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska, which according to National Park Service research has retreated approximately 1.25 miles over the past 200 years. According to a study released on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in the journal Nature, the world's 220,000 glaciers are melting faster now than in the 2000s. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Melting Glaciers

This September 2017 photo provided by researcher Brian Menounos shows the Klinaklini glacier in British Columbia, Canada. The glacier and the adjacent icefield lost about 15 gigatons of water from 2000-2019, Menounos says. And the rate of loss accelerated over the last five years of the study. (Brian Menounos via AP)MoreBY SETH BORENSTEINWed, April 28, 2021, 8:01 AM·3 min read

Glaciers are melting faster, losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years earlier, according to three-dimensional satellite measurements of all the world’s mountain glaciers.

Scientists blame human-caused climate change.

Using 20 years of recently declassified satellite data, scientists calculated that the world’s 220,000 mountain glaciers are losing more than 328 billion tons (298 billion metric tons) of ice and snow per year since 2015, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature. That’s enough melt flowing into the world’s rising oceans to put Switzerland under almost 24 feet (7.2 meters) of water each year.

The annual melt rate from 2015 to 2019 is 78 billion more tons (71 billion metric tons) a year than it was from 2000 to 2004. Global thinning rates, different than volume of water lost, doubled in the last 20 years and “that’s enormous,” said Romain Hugonnet, a glaciologist at ETH Zurich and the University of Toulouse in France who led the study.

Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada.

Alaska’s melt rates are “among the highest on the planet,” with the Columbia glacier retreating about 115 feet (35 meters) a year, Hugonnet said.

Almost all the world’s glaciers are melting, even ones in Tibet that used to be stable, the study found. Except for a few in Iceland and Scandinavia that are fed by increased precipitation, the melt rates are accelerating around the world.

The near-uniform melting “mirrors the global increase in temperature” and is from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Hugonnet said. Some smaller glaciers are disappearing entirely. Two years ago, scientists, activists and government officials in Iceland held a funeral for a small glacier.

“Ten years ago, we were saying that the glaciers are the indicator of climate change, but now actually they’ve become a memorial of the climate crisis,” said World Glacier Monitoring Service Director Michael Zemp, who wasn’t part of the study.Story continues

Alaskan glacier has started moving 50 to 100 times faster than normal, scientists say

A glacier is surging.ByChristian Spencer | April 12, 2021 20% 

Story at a glance:

  • A glacier in Denali is experiencing a surge event.
    • Glaciers move due to the ice on the base becoming wet from heat.
    • Muldrow Glacier has not moved this fast since the 1950s.

Muldrow Glacier, a mountain in Denali — south central Alaska — is moving quickly in what is called a glacial surge event.

The surging glacier is moving at a rate between 50 and 100 times faster than normal, according to Denali National Park, Gizmodo reported.

“They are these things that have fascinated glaciologists for decades,” Jonny Kingslake, an assistant professor of environmental science at Columbia University, said.

Glaciers normally move at a glacial rate of mere millimeters per day, but sometimes some of them experience rare surges, likely tied to the seasons.

The glacier surge was first discovered by Chris Palm, a K2 Aviation pilot, which does flight-seeing tours and glacier landings in Talkeetna, Alaska.

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Experts aren’t sure what causes the surge, but they suspect this particular one isn’t related to climate change. Still, a warming world is causing many of the world’s glaciers to recede and has been implicated in some surge events.

The bottom base of the ice creates a lubricant for the glacier to tile or move.

“The whole thing is flowing very slowly, and then suddenly it accelerates, and that can cause the glacier at higher elevations to thin, and then the ice slumps down to lower elevations,” Kingslake explained. “Then that happens, and it slows back down, and the material at lower elevations starts to melt, and the ice near the top thickens, and the whole thing repeats. It’s doing, like, a see-saw thing.”

The sometimes-slow, sometimes-fast moving river of ice presents challenges to people and animals who depend on transportation and the use of water.

“Denali for climbers, may no longer be transversable for the nearly 1,000 climbers who have signed up to climb Denali this year, as the surge creates new crevasses and jostles up the familiar landscape,” Gizmodo reported.

The last time Muldrow Glacier surged was in the 1950s, when it moved 4 miles over a couple of months.




Doomed Doomsday Glacier

Researchers studied the waters underneath the Thwaites Glacier (aka the “Doomsday Glacier”) and have discovered that the ice shelf is melting faster than they previously thought. 

Scientists utilized an uncrewed submersible known as “Ran” to explore the underside of the glacier in Western Antarctica, according to SciTechDaily. There they discovered that the warm waters flowing underneath is wearing away at the glacier at a faster rate than they anticipated, creating cracks and fissures in the ice.   

This poses a glacier-sized problem: If the ice shelf collapses, we could all see a massive rise in global sea levels (that’s why it’s called the Doomsday Glacier). 

The researchers published a study of their findings in Science Advances


Warm Waters Run Deep

The Thwaites Glacier is roughly 119,300 square miles big, according to Gizmodo. Despite its immense size, the ice is melting faster than any other glacier in Antarctica.

The Ran submersible discovered that the water beneath can rise as high as 33.89 degrees Fahrenheit — which is warm enough to deteriorate the ice. 

“The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet,” said Alastair Graham, associate professor of geological oceanography at the University of Southern Florida and co-author of the study, to Gizmodo. 

He continued saying, “This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock.”


So it’s certainly a bittersweet moment for the researchers. On the brightside, they were able to study a previously unexplored part of the glacier — but they also learned that the Doomsday Glacier might live up to its name sooner than they thought. 

READ MORE: First Exploration of Ocean Currents Beneath the “Doomsday Glacier” Triggers Concerns [SciTechDaily]

More on ice melt: A Melting Antarctica Could Raise the Sea Level More Than Expected

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Evidence of Antarctic glacier’s tipping point confirmed for first time

APRIL 2, 2021

by Northumbria University

Evidence of Antarctic glacier's tipping point confirmed for first time
Dr Sebastian Rosier at Pine Island Glacier in 2015. Credit: Dr Sebastian Rosier

Researchers have confirmed for the first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica could cross tipping points, leading to a rapid and irreversible retreat which would have significant consequences for global sea level.

Pine Island Glacier is a region of fast-flowing ice draining an area of West Antarctica approximately two thirds the size of the UK. The glacier is a particular cause for concern as it is losing more ice than any other glacier in Antarctica.

Currently, Pine Island Glacier together with its neighbouring Thwaites glacier are responsible for about 10% of the ongoing increase in global sea level.

Scientists have argued for some time that this region of Antarctica could reach a tipping point and undergo an irreversible retreat from which it could not recover. Such a retreat, once started, could lead to the collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to raise global sea level by over three metres.

While the general possibility of such a tipping point within ice sheets has been raised before, showing that Pine Island Glacier has the potential to enter unstable retreat is a very different question.

Now, researchers from Northumbria University have shown, for the first time, that this is indeed the case.

Their findings are published in leading journal, The Cryosphere.

Using a state-of-the-art ice flow model developed by Northumbria’s glaciology research group, the team have developed methods that allow tipping points within ice sheets to be identified.

For Pine Island Glacier, their study shows that the glacier has at least three distinct tipping points. The third and final event, triggered by ocean temperatures increasing by 1.2C, leads to an irreversible retreat of the entire glacier.

Evidence of Antarctic glacier's tipping point confirmed for first time
Pine Island Glacier. Credit: Dr Sebastian Rosier

The researchers say that long-term warming and shoaling trends in Circumpolar Deep Water, in combination with changing wind patterns in the Amundsen Sea, could expose Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf to warmer waters for longer periods of time, making temperature changes of this magnitude increasingly likely.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Sebastian Rosier, is a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences. He specialises in the modelling processes controlling ice flow in Antarctica with the goal of understanding how the continent will contribute to future sea level rise.×280&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=KP30SGBJMK&p=https%3A//

Dr. Rosier is a member of the University’s glaciology research group, led by Professor Hilmar Gudmundsson, which is currently working on a major £4million study to investigate if climate change will drive the Antarctic Ice Sheet towards a tipping point.

Dr. Rosier explained: “The potential for this region to cross a tipping point has been raised in the past, but our study is the first to confirm that Pine Island Glacier does indeed cross these critical thresholds.

“Many different computer simulations around the world are attempting to quantify how a changing climate could affect the West Antarctic Ice Sheet but identifying whether a period of retreat in these models is a tipping point is challenging.

“However, it is a crucial question and the methodology we use in this new study makes it much easier to identify potential future tipping points.”

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Professor of Glaciology and Extreme Environments worked with Dr. Rosier on the study. He added: “The possibility of Pine Island Glacier entering an unstable retreat has been raised before but this is the first time that this possibility is rigorously established and quantified.

“This is a major forward step in our understanding of the dynamics of this area and I’m thrilled that we have now been able to finally provide firm answers to this important question.

“But the findings of this study also concern me. Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

The paper, The tipping points and early warning indicators for Pine island Glacier, West Antarctica, is now available to view in The Cryosphere.

Explore furtherNew study reveals when West Antarctica’s largest glacier started retreating

Melting ice sheets caused sea levels to rise up to 18 meters

APRIL 1, 2021

by Durham University

Melting ice sheets caused sea levels to rise up to 18 metres
An isolation lake in north-west Scotland. Sediment analysed from the bottom of this low-lying lake tells us that it was once connected to the ocean. Credit: Professor Ian Shennan, Department of Geography, Durham University.

It is well known that climate-induced sea level rise is a major threat. New research has found that previous ice loss events could have caused sea-level rise at rates of around 3.6 meters per century, offering vital clues as to what lies ahead should climate change continue unabated.

A team of scientists, led by researchers from Durham University, used geological records of past sea levels to shed light on the ice sheets responsible for a rapid pulse of sea-level rise in Earth’s recent past.

Geological records tell us that, at the end of the last ice age around 14,600 years ago, sea levels rose at ten times the current rate due to Meltwater Pulse 1A (MWP-1A); a 500 year, ~18 meter sea-level rise event.

Until now, the scientific community has not been able to agree about which ice sheet was responsible for this rapid rise, with the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet being a likely suspect, but some evidence pointing towards ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere.

The new study uses detailed geological sea-level data and state-of-the-art modelling techniques to reveal the sources of MWP-1A. Interestingly, most of the meltwater appears to have originated from the former North American and Eurasian ice sheets, with minimal contribution from Antarctica, reconciling formerly disparate views.

In addition to flooding vast areas of low-lying land, this unparalleled discharge of freshwater into the ocean—comparable to melting an ice sheet twice the size of Greenland in only 500 years—will have disrupted ocean circulation, with knock-on effects for global climate. Knowing the source of the meltwater will improve the accuracy of climate models that are used to replicate the past and predict changes in the future.

The results are important for our understanding of ice-ocean-climate interactions which play a significant role in shaping terrestrial weather patterns. The findings are particularly timely with the Greenland ice sheet rapidly melting, contributing to a rise in sea levels and changes to global ocean circulation.

Of the findings, lead author Yucheng Lin, in the Department of Geography at Durham University notes: “Despite being identified over 30 years ago, it has been surprisingly challenging to determine which ice sheet was the major contributor to this dramatic rise in sea levels.

“Previously, scientists tried to work out the source of the sea-level rise based on sea-level data from the tropics, but the majority of those studies disagreed with geological records of ice sheet change.

Our study includes novel information from lakes around the coast of Scotland that were isolated from the ocean due to land uplift following the retreat of the British Ice Sheet, allowing us to confidently identify the meltwater sources.”

Co-author Dr. Pippa Whitehouse, in the Department of Geography at Durham University said “The technique we have used allows us to really dig into the error bars on the data and explore which ice-melt scenarios were most likely.

“We found that most of the rapid sea-level rise was due to ice sheet melt across North America and Scandinavia, with a surprisingly small contribution from Antarctica.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic. This is very much on our minds today—any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.”

Rising sea levels due to warming climate pose a great risk to society, improving our understand of why and how fast change could happen will help us plan for the impacts.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

Sea level rise from ice sheets track worst-case climate change scenario

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica whose melting rates are rapidly increasing have raised the global sea level by 1.8cm since the 1990s, and are matching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case climate warming scenarios.

Since the ice sheets were first monitored by satellite in the 1990s, melting from Antarctica has pushed global sea levels up by 7.2mm, while Greenland has contributed 10.6mm. And the latest measurements show that the world’s oceans are now rising by 4mm each year.

“Although we anticipated the ice sheets would lose increasing amounts of ice in response to the warming of the oceans and atmosphere, the rate at which they are melting has accelerated faster than we could have imagined,” said Dr. Tom Slater, lead author of the study and climate researcher at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds.

“The melting is overtaking the  we use to guide us, and we are in danger of being unprepared for the risks posed by  rise.”

The results are published today in a study in the journal Nature Climate Change. It compares the latest results from satellite surveys from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise (IMBIE) with calculations from climate models. The authors warn that the ice sheets are losing ice at a rate predicted by the worst-case climate warming scenarios in the last large IPCC report.

Dr. Anna Hogg, study co-author and climate researcher in the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: “If  losses continue to track our worst-case climate warming scenarios we should expect an additional 17cm of  from the ice sheets alone. That’s enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world’s largest coastal cities.”

So far, global sea levels have increased in the most part through a mechanism called , which means that volume of seawater expands as it gets warmer. But in the last five years, ice melt from the ice sheets and mountain glaciers has overtaken global warming as the main cause of rising sea levels.

Dr. Ruth Mottram, study co-author and  researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, said: “It is not only Antarctica and Greenland that are causing the water to rise. In recent years, thousands of smaller glaciers have begun to melt or disappear altogether, as we saw with the glacier Ok in Iceland, which was declared “dead” in 2014. This means that melting of ice has now taken over as the main contributor of sea level rise. ”

The study, “Ice-sheet losses track high-end sea-level rise projections,” is published today (31 August) in Nature Climate Change.

Ancient never-before-seen viruses discovered locked up in Tibetan glacier

Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau.

(Image: © Shutterstock)

For the past 15,000 years, a glacier on the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China has hosted a party for some unusual guests: an ensemble of frozen viruses, many of them unknown to modern science.

Scientists recently broke up this party after taking a look at two ice cores from this Tibetan glacier, revealing the existence of 28 never-before-seen virus groups.

Investigating these mysterious viruses could help scientists on two fronts: For one, these stowaways can teach researchers which viruses thrived in different climates and environments over time, the researchers wrote in a paper posted on the bioRxiv database on Jan. 7.

Related: Photographic Proof of Climate Change: Time-Lapse Images of Retreated Glaciers

“However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt [from climate change] could release pathogens into the environment,” the researchers wrote in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. If this happens, it’s best to know as much about these viruses as possible, the researchers wrote.

Icy research

Studying ancient glacial microbes can be challenging. That’s because it’s extremely easy to contaminate ice core samples with modern-day bacteria. So, the researchers created a new protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling.

In this case, the two ice core samples from the Guliya ice cap on the Tibetan Plateau were collected in 1992 and 2015. However, at those times, there weren’t any special measures taken to avoid microbial contamination during the core drilling, handling or transport.

In other words, the exterior of these ice cores was contaminated. But the insides were still pristine, the researchers wrote in the study. To access the inner part of the cores, the researchers set up shop in a cold room — the thermometer was set at 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius) — and used a sterilized band saw to cut away 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of ice from the outer layer. Then, the researchers washed the ice cores with ethanol to melt another 0.2 inches of ice. Finally, they washed the next 0.2 inches away with sterile water.

After all of this work (shaving off about 0.6 inches, or 1.5 cm of ice), the researchers reached an uncontaminated layer that they could study. This method held up even during tests in which the researchers covered the outer layer of the ice with other bacteria and viruses.

The experiment revealed 33 groups of virus genuses (also known as genera) in the ice cores. Of these, 28 were previously unknown to science, the researchers said. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote in the study, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

It’s no surprise that the glacier held these mysterious viruses for so long, researchers said.

“We are very far from sampling the entire diversity of viruses on Earth,” Chantal Abergel, a researcher in environmental virology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Vice.

As human-made climate change melts glaciers the world over, these viral archives could be lost, the researchers noted. Research into ancient viruses “provides a first window into viral genomes and their ecology from glacier ice,” the researchers wrote in the study, “and emphasizes their likely impact on abundant microbial groups [today].”

Spy Satellite Images Uncover Staggering Mount Everest Ice Loss

Due to climate change, glaciers near Mount Everest have lost ice mass. New analysis shows that the loss is even greater than expected.

Due to climate change, glaciers near Mount Everest have lost ice mass. New analysis shows that the loss is even greater than expected.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

SAN FRANCISCO — The glaciers surrounding Mount Everest have lost far more ice than once thought, declassified spy satellite photos have revealed.

Using these decades-old images — along with recently-collected data — researchers generated digital surface-elevation models of the glaciers, creating a highly detailed record of melt. From 1962 to 2018, the glaciers along Mount Everest’s flanks had shrunk significantly from the top down, according to research presented on Dec. 13, 2019, here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Decades-old images

During the late 1950s, U.S. intelligence officials devised a plan to take to the skies to peek behind the Iron Curtain and spy on the Soviet Union. A secret satellite surveillance mission, code-named Corona, launched in 1960 and ended in 1972, according to the CIA website. This joint effort, helmed by the CIA, the U.S. Air Force and private industry experts, collected photographs of locations across Eastern Europe and Asia.

Related: Photographic Proof of Climate Change: Time-Lapse Images of Retreating Glaciers

By the time these images were declassified, in 1995, the mission had amassed more than 800,000 photos. These included numerous views of the Himalayas, offering scientists an unprecedented glimpse of how the region’s glaciers had changed over time, said Tobias Bolch, a lecturer for remote sensing with the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom.

Bolch and his colleagues combined analysis of these satellite photos with aerial images and modern satellite views, to visualize glacier ice mass loss since the 1960s.

As Earth warms, many glaciers’ outermost boundaries visibly retreat and expose the rock underneath, so it’s easy to spot where ice has been lost. For the new investigation, the scientists sought a missing piece of the puzzle: how loss of ice might affect a glacier’s height, Bolch told Live Science. They found the first signs of significantly reduced ice dating back to the 1960s.

“When we now look at the entire area, we see a clear increase in mass loss while it was in the period of 1962 to 1969, around 20 centimeters [8 inches] per year,” he said.

Overall, the researchers found that Rongbuk and Khumbu glaciers, where Everest base camps are located, had thinned by more than 260 feet (80 meters) over 60 years, while Imja glacier lost more than 300 feet (100 m) of ice during the same timespan.

The researchers also found that ice loss sped up in recent decades, with the acceleration beginning in the 1980s, Bolch said.

This new data about vanished ice suggests that the region’s supply of stored fresh water is draining away quicker than computer models have predicted. Runaway glacial ice loss could also destabilize popular mountaineering trails near Everest, heightening the risks for hikers and climbers, Bolch said.