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Outside/In: The edge of the ice

An iceberg in Antarctica.
Elizabeth Rush
An iceberg in Antarctica.

Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is massive — bigger than the state of Florida. If it collapses, it could reshape every coast on this planet during this century. That’s why it’s sometimes known as “the Doomsday Glacier.”

And yet, until recently, we knew very little about it. Because Thwaites is extremely remote, reachable only by crossing the wildest ocean on the planet, scientists had never observed its calving edge firsthand.

In 2019, a ground-breaking international mission set out to change that, and writer Elizabeth Rush was on board to document the voyage. We caught up with her to learn about life on an Antarctic icebreaker, how she grappled with classic Antarctic narratives about exploration (and domination), and how she summons hope even after coming face-to-face with Thwaites.

Featuring Elizabeth Rush.

Adélie penguins in Antarctica.
Elizabeth Rush
Adélie penguins in Antarctica.

LINKS

This 2022 episode featured Elizabeth Rush discussing community responses to sea level rise in Staten Island and Louisiana. If you’re interested in reading more about the journey to Thwaites, check out Elizabeth’s book, “The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth”.

A paper published in Nature with some of the findings from this voyage show that Thwaites has historically retreated two to three times faster than previously observed.Here’s the one detailing the findings about Thwaites’ past extent, extrapolated from their study of ancient penguin bones, and another sharing observations about water currents beneath its ice shelf.

Want a better visual picture of life on an icebreaker? Check out “Encounters at the End of the World,” Werner Herzog’s (2007) documentary about science and community in Antarctica.

Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
Justine Paradis is a producer and reporter for NHPR's Creative Production Unit, most oftenOutside/In. Before NHPR, she produced Millennial podcast from Radiotopia, contributed to podcasts including Love + Radio, and reported for WCAI & WGBH from her hometown of Nantucket island.
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