Monday, March 11, 2019

Time Thwaites for No One: the back story of Fredrik Thwaites, an American glacial geologist that the Thwaites Glacier was named for

A headline in the May 2017 issue of Rolling Stone magazine called it ''The Doomsday Glacier," over a byline by climate beat reporter Jeff Goodell and his 2,500-word longform article about the Thwaites Glacier in Antartica.

The sub-headline doesn't mince words either: "In the farthest reaches of Antarctica, a nightmare scenario of crumbling ice -- and rapidly rising seas -- could spell disaster for a warming planet."

This was back in May of 2017, almost two years ago, and this spring of 2019 a major scientific expedition funded by British and American govenments and supported by a team of over 50 scientists, reporters, and staff aboard a solidly-built research ship have been cruisiing in waters close to the gigantic glacier, stuyding it for clues to what the future might hold for the prospects of runaway global warming within the next 30 generations of humankind.

There have been over 100 media reports about the 50-day expedition, both before and during and after, and not one newspaper or magazine report bothered to explain to readers why the glacier is named ''Thwaites'' or who is named for.

Well. you came to the right place, because this blog is about to explain to readers worldwide -- for the first time -- that the glacier was named for the American geologist Fredrik Thwaites (1883-1961) whose British grandfather emigrated with his wife to Boston in 1850.

So now you know: the Doomsday Glacier was named for an American college professor in Wisconsin who carried British ancestry and a surname minted in England. There's even a famous Thwaites Brewery in the UK that is known far and wide for the suds it sells, but that beer palance has nothing to do with the glacier.

There's more, but first read this quote from Ohio State University glaciologist Ian Howat who told the Rolling Stone reporter in the above-mentioned article in 2017: "If there is going to be a climate catastrophe, it's probably going to start at Thwaites."

So yes, the Thwaites, and the name itself, at this point in time, is one of the most famous surnames in the Anthropocene Era.


Because scientists from several nations are right now studying and researching Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, as hundreds of news accounts confirm.

Let's now meet the late American Professor Fredrik Turville Thwaites for whom the glacier was named for:

He was born in 1883 in America and passed away in 1961. His paternal grandparents Mr and Mrs Thwaites were born in England and emigrated to the USA by ship in 1850, first to Boston and then moving on later to Wisconsin. So the surname Thwaites can reliably be said to be a British surname, as several people named Thwaites in Britain, Australia and America can confirm.

Professor Thwaites was only son of the Anerican historian Reuben Gold Thwaites and his wife Jessie Turville Thwaites. The Thwaites glacier was named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (ACAN) after Thwaites, who was a glacial geologist, a geomorphologist and a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

A friend of mine, a writer who teaches creative nonfiction at Brown University in Rhode Island was aboard the government-funded research ship plying the icy waters around the Thwaites, and she, along with 50 climate change scientists on the expedition was able from time to time to tweet from their ship cabins and work spaces about this scientific adventure of a lifetime.

More than adventure. A very important expedition that will hopefully shed light on the future of humankind within the next 30 generations of man, that is to say, the next 500 years or so -- if indeed humanity is fated to exist that long.

Most likely we humans will continue on this Earth, our home planet, on and on, for much longer than 500 years. Then again, there are some alarmist voices online and on TV saying our days are numbered, from 12 years to 100 years to 300 years or so.

Me, I take the long view and see humans living on for another 1,000 years and more. Color me ''eternal optimist.''

By the way, if you want to learn more, there's even a hashtag for the Thwaites expedition in Antarctica, three in fact  -- #Thwaites and #TheThwaites and #ThwaitesGlacier -- and it's possible for people around the world to follow the scientists and reports on board the research vessel as it navigates the frigid waters near the imposing glacier.

Go and take a look. Just go to Twitter and click on either of the three hashtags above, and you will be able to see photos and videos taken by expedition members and the reporters and environmental writers accompanying them.

Meanwhile, thanks to the magic of the internet, I met a British man who lives and works in Washington DC, and at this point in time, he has one of the most famous surnames in the Anthropocene Era: ''Thwaites.''

Why is the name so famous now? Because scientists from several nations are right now studying and researching Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, as many news accounts confirm here and here and here.

And especially here and here and here and here.

So meet the late Professor Fredrik Turville Thwaites:
(1883 - 1961)

He was born in 1883 in America and passed away in 1961.

Any relation to Joe Thwaites, our online British acquaintance in Washington?

 In the Wisconsin Academy Review, a UW retiremnt profile by Vivien Hone notes that
              the American geologist FREDERICK T. THWAITES (also FREDRIK)
              taught for 38
               years at UW and served a long curator-ship
               of the UW Geology Museum. [QUESTION FOR BLOG FOLLOWERS HERE: Where do you think the ''Thwaites'' name orignates from? Denmark, Germany, Holland, the UK? Any idea?]

Professor Thwaites of Wisconsin was only son of the historian Mr Reuben Gold
Thwaites and Mrs Jessie Turville Thwaites. (His paternal grandfather, Reuben's
 father, came to America from England in 1850.) He took his elementary
and high school instruction in Madison schools; spent his
early summers at the Turville homestead on Lake Monona and
later, for many years, dwelled permanently there. Trips
across the Atlantic were made more than once with his
parents, Thwaites recalled, but what seemed more mem-
orable to him was is a 1894 rowboat journey down the Ohio River. With his
social historian father. As a boy Frederick also retraced the
river routes of the early French missionary priests.


 The Thwaites was named by ACAN[2] after Fredrik T. Thwaites, a glacial geologist, geomorphologist and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison[3 in the USA.

When this blogger discovered Joe Thwaites on Twitter by complete chance the other day [and I don't even remember exactly how his name popped up into my online surfing, but pop up it did, and it caught my eye.]

Joe Thwaites: Nice guy, unassuming, modest guy, British chap, enjoying his life and work in Washington, and while he has never taken advantage of the publicity surrounding the scientific cruise to Thwaites glacier in 2019 year to claim he has any relation to the glacier itself -- he doesn't -- he has at the same time told this blogger (when I asked) that yes, since the news about Thwaites and the scientists studying it went viral on a variety of websites in dozens of langauges, he has received a few curious remarks about his last name from colleagues at work and and friends online and from a few inquiring reporters and bloggers.

When this blog asked Joe if he had been getting any inquiries from the media about his possible link via surnme to the Thwaites glacier, he replied in internet time in a very friendly way:'

"Hey! Thanks, Dan, for your interest in my glacial namesake! Feel free to send over questions and I'll have a think. Mostly it's been friends and colleagues emailing me whenever it's in the news; it's become a bit of a running joke. The occasional journalist who I've talked to in the course of my work has also asked if there's a connection. [The news could be seen as being a bit] ominous in the sense that the glacier is a bit of a canary in the coal mine."

''Yeah I've been getting questions about it much more frequently, which is both funny and ominous," Joe had told me in tweet, so I had asked him what he meant by ominous.

When I asked if he might be RELATED to the man the Thwaites Glacier was named for, Joe replied in internet tine: ''Haha. I've been getting asked that a fair bit in recent years. Not that I know of!''

As for the origin of the Thwaites surname, Joe told me: ''By the way, I'm British, which perhaps explains the name better!''

On his Twitter page, Joe writes this as part of his intro: I work on climate policy at a Washington firm. --- And on that Twitter intro he runs this quote: “If there is going to be a climate catastrophe,” says glaciologist Ian Howat, “it's probably going to start at Thwaites.”

Note that Joe is part of an organization working to shift the world’s financial flows to support sustainable development at the institute he works for in DC, so he is aware of the Thwaites expedition, very aware.

What does Wikipedia have to say about the glacier itself? Well,  Thwaites Glacier (75°30′S 106°45′W / 75.500°S 106.750°W / -75.500; -106.750) is an unusually broad and fast Antarctic glacier flowing into Pine Island Bay, part of the Amundsen Sea, east of Mount Murphy, on the Walgreen Coast of Marie Byrd Land.[1] Its surface speeds exceed 2 km/yr near its grounding line, and its fastest flowing grounded ice is centred between 50 and 100 km east of Mount Murphy. It was named by ACAN[2] after Fredrik T. Thwaites, a glacial geologist, geomorphologist and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[3] Thwaites Glacier drains into West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea and is closely watched for its potential to raise sea levels.[4]
Along with Pine Island Glacier, Thwaites Glacier has been described as part of the "weak underbelly" of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, due to its apparent vulnerability to significant retreat. This hypothesis is based on both theoretical studies of the stability of marine ice sheets and recent observations of large changes on both of these glaciers. In recent years, the flow of both of these glaciers has accelerated, their surfaces lowered, and the grounding lines retreated.

 JEFF GOODELL for ROLLING STONE Magazine wrote earlier this winter: ''I’m writing this aboard the R/V Nathaniel Palmer, a 300-foot ocean research vessel. On board the ship [are me and writer Elizabeth Rush and] 26 scientists and 31 crew members and support staff, as well as many millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment. We first made a week-long transit from Chile to the West Coast of Antarctica, where we then spent the next 6 weeks in one of the most remote regions of the most remote continent in the universe.

Btw: Some other Thwaites online:

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