Outside/In: The edge of the ice
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.
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.