The Doomsday Glacier and the Sunshine State

I’ve always figured I’d be long gone before my lovely Tampa Bay area is sunk by global warming. But then, I also figured I’d be barely a memory before humanity developed anything along the lines of the ChatGPT AI. Surprise! That made me wonder: what if I’m wrong about the time scales for the sinking of the state due to global warming? For example, is Florida prepared for flooding from the Doomsday Glacier melt?

Oh, sure, maybe we’ll get “lucky” and the AIs will sink humanity well before global warming does, but this is Florida. Dark weird shit happens. Heck, Carl Hiaasen has gotten rich off all the dark weirdness of the Sunshine State. And, it seems to get darker and weirder by the year. Just look at our governor!

But that’s a different disaster. Let’s stick with floodwaters for now.

The Not-So-Slow Slimming of the Gulf Coast

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Between all the unhinged ravings of anti-democracy demogogues, the wailing of AI apolcalypse criers, and the deafening tic-toc of the nuclear Doomday Clock, it’s hard to hear anything else these days. Nonetheless, I did take note when I recently saw that sea levels are rising faster on the Florida Gulf Coast than much of the rest of the world.

How much faster? Well, pretty darned fast by geological standards. That is, about half an inch per year since 2010, three times more than the global average.

But hey, we live on human time, not geological time! Even the good ole Don Cesar hotel down on the beach reportedly stands at about a 7-foot elevation, so it’ll stay above water for another 160 years or so (unless some big old Cat 5 sweeps it off the beach, but that’s a slightly different scenario).

And I, my friends, live way higher up than that (if double-digit feet can be considered high which is obviously belly-busting laughable to your average denizen of Denver). So, unless our humble home is handed down to our descendants for a millenium or more, no problemo!

That sounds pretty comforting, except for a little thing called the Doomsday Glacier.

How Long Will Thwaites Wait?

No, it’s not really called the Doomsday Glacier except by the same crybaby mainstream media scaremonger types who tried to tell us that invading Afghanistan might be a sketchy notion, or that those adjustable-rate mortages could result in a bit of an economic downturn, or that a sitting reality-TV president with a phony hairline might forment a bit of a ruckus at the Capitol just so he wouldn’t have to store scads of his “personal” top-secret documents in the basement of some slowly seeping and subsiding Palm Beach resort.


No, it’s real name is Thwaites Glacier. And, just because it’s the size (ironically?) of Florida, why worry?

Well, here’s the thing.

It turns out that, although the pace of melting underneath a lot of the Thwaites ice shelf is slower than was previously feared, there are these deep cracks and “staircase” formations that turn out to be melting a lot more quickly.

Bottom line: nobody’s quite sure when the ice shelf could shatter. Maybe five years. Maybe 500.

What Happens If Thwaites Thaws?

But, worst case scenario, what happens if the whole bloody thing falls into the ocean? Well, nothing good for Florida: “The complete collapse of the Thwaites itself could lead to sea level rise of more than two feet, which would be enough to devastate coastal communities around the world. But the Thwaites is also acting like a natural dam to the surrounding ice in West Antarctica, and scientists have estimated global sea level could ultimately rise around 10 feet if the Thwaites collapsed.”

Going up two feet in a very short period of time could do a ton of damage in Florida. But 10 feet? Yowzer! Here’s what 10 feet of flooding would do in my neck of the woods. All the reddish brownish areas on the following map are underwater.

St. Pete Beach is gone except maybe as a massive artificial reef leaking toxins for decades. South St. Pete turns into a couple of shrinking islands. And a whole lot of Tampa, including Davis Island and much of Ybor City, goes bye-bye.

Relax. What Are the Chances?

Look, I really don’t expect to see anything like this in my lifetime. Still, if somebody comes to you with a great opporrtunity to invest in condos along St. Pete Beach, Tampa’s waterfront or, even worse, Miami, you might want to go check out the Interactive Map at Climate Central first. Then see what’s happening with the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which is investigating “one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica.” Just saying a little due diligence couldn’t hurt. It might even help keep those real estate investments from tanking to the point where they’re way, way underwater.

Feature image: Thwaits Glacier.jpg. Description Glacier in West Antarctica Source (JPL) Author: NASA

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Mark R. Vickers

I am a writer, analyst, futurist and researcher. I've spent most of my working life as an editor and manager for research organizations focusing on social, business, technology, HR and management trends. But, perhaps more to the point for this blog, I'm curious about the universe and the myriad, often mysterious relationships therein.

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