Key Part of World’s Largest Ice Shelf Melting 10 Times Faster Than Average
Parts of the world's largest ice shelf are melting 10 times faster than the shelf's average rate, and this could have worrying implications for sea level rise.
Part of the world’s largest ice shelf is melting 10 times faster than expected due to solar heating of the surround… https://t.co/s2MjgKqAKk— Cambridge University (@Cambridge University)1556554440.0
"Previous studies have shown that when ice shelves collapse, the feeding glaciers can speed up by a factor or two or three," study co-author Dr. Poul Christoffersen of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute said in a University of Cambridge press release. "The difference here is the sheer size of Ross Ice Shelf, which over one hundred times larger than the ice shelves we've already seen disappear."
Basal melting of Ross Ice Shelf from solar heat absorption in an ice-front polynya https://t.co/JVlZgOtvv2 https://t.co/DqiopF8nn5— POPapers (@POPapers)1556568963.0
The study, published in Nature Geoscience Monday, was based on four years of observation of how the Ross Ice Shelf's north-west sector interacted with the ocean surrounding it. Researchers found that the sun was warming surface ocean water, which was in turn melting the shelf at rates higher than they had expected.
"The stability of ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their exposure to warm deep ocean water, but we've found that solar heated surface water also plays a crucial role in melting ice shelves," first author Dr. Craig Stewart from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand said in the press release.
The finding that the ice shelf is so sensitive to surface ocean temperatures means it is likely to melt even faster in the future, Stewart said, since climate change is likely to melt sea ice in the Ross Sea, leading to a warmer ocean surface.
Scientists discover that ocean water warmed by the sun is melting part of the world's largest ice shelf 10 times fa… https://t.co/sppgFU6Fvm— CNN Philippines (@CNN Philippines)1556638034.0
The researchers stressed that the ice shelf is currently stable, but is more vulnerable than previously thought. That vulnerability is enhanced by where the sped up melting is taking place. The warm surface water is flowing into a cavity near a pinning point: a place where the Ross Ice Shelf pushes against Ross Island, helping to stabilize the shelf. If pressure on that pinning point is reduced, the ice shelf could become less stable, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) oceanographer Keith Nicholl said, as CNN reported.
"These ice front pinning points help control the flow of a lot of Antarctic ice shelves, and so the study demonstrates another vulnerability of ice shelves to climate change," Nicholl said.
That means that melting in this one area could have a wide impact on surrounding glaciers.
"The observations we made at the front of the ice shelf have direct implications for many large glaciers that flow into the ice shelf, some as far as 900 km (approximately 559 miles) away," Christoffersen said.
If all the major ice shelves in the world collapsed, BAS said sea levels could rise several meters or more, CNN reported.
The night sky has a special treat in store for stargazers this winter solstice.
- NASA Satellites Enable Scientists to Observe Climate Change ... ›
- Why Scientists Are Searching for Life in 'Alien Oceans' - EcoWatch ›
- To Save Endangered Species, Scientists Point Stargazing Software ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dena Jones
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was sued three times this past summer for shirking its responsibility to protect birds from egregious welfare violations and safeguard workers at slaughterhouses from injuries and the spread of the coronavirus.
By Julia Conley
Conservation campaigners on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of taking a "wrecking ball" to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the White House announced plans to move ahead with the sale of drilling leases in the 19 million-acre coastal preserve, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition to oil and gas extraction there.
The Sheenjek River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alexis Bonogofsky / USFWS
- Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Ban Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ›
- Bank of America Promises It Won't Fund Arctic Drilling - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Drilling Leases on Public Lands Could Lead to 4.7B Metric ... ›
- Trump Administration's Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale a 'Major Flop ... ›
- Will Oil Companies Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ... ›
Hot, dry and windy conditions fueled a wildfire southeast of Los Angeles Thursday that injured two firefighters and forced 25,000 to flee their homes.
- 'Explosive' Southern California Lake Fire Spreads to 10,000 Acres ... ›
- A Gender-Reveal Party Started a Wildfire That Burned Nearly ... ›
- Wildfire in LA Burns 7,000 Acres During Record-Setting Heat Wave ... ›
The climate crisis already has a death toll, and it will get worse if we don't act to reduce emissions.
- 'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate ... ›
- Coronavirus Response Proves the World Can Act on Climate Change ›
- 5 Things About Climate Change and Coronavirus From WHO ... ›