What You Should Know About the West Antarctic Glacier Collapse

by , 05/13/14

Antarctica, global warming, land ice, NASA, University of California Irvine, rising sea level, Antarctic ice shelf, Amundsen Sea Embayment, Eric Rignot, polar caps, polar melting

A section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has melted to a point of no return, according to a new study released by researchers from NASA and the University of California, Irvine. Warmer sea temperatures are melting the ice much faster than previously predicted and new modeling shows that the melt could be complete within 200 years. The ice sheet in question has the potential to release enough water to raise sea levels by four feet (1.2 meters).

Antarctica, global warming, land ice, NASA, University of California Irvine, rising sea level, Antarctic ice shelf, Amundsen Sea Embayment,  Eric Rignot, polar caps, polar melting

The study has focused on an area of glacial land ice (as opposed to seasonally variable sea ice) in the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Three separate lines of evidence are indicating that the rate of melt has reached a point that cannot be reversed. Scientists focused on the ‘grounding line,’ the point where a land-based glacier comes into contact with the sea as it moves downhill. Scientists studied the changes in the flow speed of the ice melt, how high in the water the glacial ice was resting, and the angle of the ground the glaciers were moving over and how far above or below sea level that was. Most glacial melting occurs at the point where the glacier meets warmer sea water, and all three areas of study indicated that the rate of melt was increasing. They attribute the initial spark for the situation to increasing sea temperatures.

Related: Global Warming Traps Heat in the Deepest Regions of the Antarctic Ocean

As the land ice in this area is generally at least 1,000 meters thick at the grounding line, scientists have been using satellite radar data gathered between 1992 and 2011 to track changes in glacier behavior. They have observed that as the glacier melts and thins, it rests higher in the water. This allows sea water to flow in under the raised glacier, moving the grounding line further inland. The particular problem with this section of West Antarctic ice is that much of the land just onshore is below sea level, allowing the sea to flow in more easily and further under the ice, pooling and compounding the problem.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge will focus closely on this area during this year’s Antarctic study period, beginning in October. But as glaciologist and lead author of the study Eric Rignot says: “The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable…The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

Via Slate.com and NASA

Photos by NASA

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1 Comment

  1. john top wrench May 27, 2014 at 3:22 am

    The leaders of the world should consider the desalinization of a portion of the ocean’s water so that it may be used to irrigate the desert wastelands of the world. The melting of the polar landscape may indeed be a fortunate misfortune. Rather than allowing the rising tides to engulf our homes, we might consider the construction of man-made lakes in barren waste lands using solar and wind energy to power irrigation thus propagating vegetation, increasing usable land mass, food supplies and bio-fuels. The increased vegetation will serve to reduce the earth’s CO2 levels, normalizing the climate. As we all know, the devastation that is currently occurring in the Sahara, is itself a result of the very same climate shift that is occurring in the Antarctic. What better place to start than the Sahara. I envision a man-made lagoon deep in the Sahara as a 1st step in the land’s development. Irrigation is key to reducing the amount of dust in the region. The earth is dotted with ancient lakes that are now dry. Currently, solar panels are designed to be low to the ground, prohibiting the usage of the land for any other purpose. If those panels were engineered to allow sunlight to pass through them, they may be mounted at a higher elevation, allowing the land beneath the panels to be used for agriculture, while shading the vegetation from the scorching heat of the sun. The panels may be further developed to regulate the amount of sunlight allowed to pass through to the vegetation. Irrigation pipes may be attached to the solar panel support beams so as to shower the vegetation. The world as a whole is in the midst of economic turmoil. Jobs are few and workers are plenty. We have everything that we need to begin a world wide civil engineering project that would serve to bring the nations of the world together in an effort to “Save the Earth” possibly turning mankind away from the inevitable wars that follow economic depravation and over-population. Climate shifts have occurred on Earth in the past, we know that is a fact. At this point in our history, we are poised to take full advantage of that shift, turning a potentially catastrophic event in an opportunity. We have all heard the words before; “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore“.

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