Good News From Antarctica: Rising Bedrock Could Save Vulnerable Ice Sheet
After last week's disturbing news that ice melt in Antarctica has tripled in the last five years, another study published Thursday offers some surprising good news for the South Pole and its vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).
The study, published in Science by an international research team, found that the bedrock below the WAIS is rising, a process known as "uplift," at record rates as melting ice removes weight, potentially stabilizing the ice sheet that scientists feared would be lost to climate change.
"The rate of uplift we found is unusual and very surprising. It's a game changer," study co-author and Ohio State University (OSU) earth science professor Terry Wilson said in an OSU press release.
Luckily, as ice melts, weight is removed from the ground beneath it, which springs up and moves the remaining ice further from the warming water melting it from below.
"This very rapid uplift may slow the runaway wasting and eventual collapse of the ice sheet," study co-author and Colorado State University professor Rick Aster told The Independent.
"The uplift tends to stabilize the critical grounding line where the ice sheet loses contact with underlying bedrock or sediment and goes afloat," Aster said.
Researchers knew removing ice would lead to bedrock uplift, but they thought it would be a process that would take thousands of years and would not happen quickly enough to stabilize the ice sheet.
Instead, they measured an uplift rate of 41 millimeters (approximately 1.6 inches) a year, compared to uplift rates of 20 to 30 millimeters (approximately 0.79 inches to 1.18 inches) a year in Alaska and Iceland, which are considered fast.
"We previously thought uplift would occur over thousands of years at a very slow rate, not enough to have a stabilizing effect on the ice sheet. Our results suggest the stabilizing effect may only take decades," Wilson said in the release.
This is because the mantle, a layer of hotter, fluid rock under the earth's solid crust, is hotter and more fluid under the ice sheet than scientists previously thought, according to study lead author Valentina R. Barletta of the Technical University of Denmark.
Scientists not involved in the study said the findings would not ultimately save the ice sheet if humans keep "stomping on the climate gas pedal."
"It's not a get out of jail free card," Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado told Science. "It's more of a refinement on the pace of [ice sheet] collapse,"
And the rate of uplift indicates weight removal, suggesting that 10 percent more ice has melted than previously thought, the OSU release said.
But the findings underline the fact that there is still more to discover about how exactly climate change will interact with other earth systems when assessing how its impacts will play out.
"The new findings raise the need to improve ice models to get a more precise picture of what will happen in the future," Barletta said.
Earth's Melting Glaciers Captured in Stunning Before-and-After Images https://t.co/Oe6d7KARuF @climatehawk1 @ClimateReality @MichaelEMann— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1492779114.0
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
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