Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Achilles' heel of ice shelves is beneath the water, scientists reveal

16.09.2013
New research has revealed that more ice leaves Antarctica by melting from the underside of submerged ice shelves than was previously thought, accounting for as much as 90 per cent of ice loss in some areas.

Iceberg production and melting causes 2,800 cubic kilometres of ice to leave the Antarctic ice sheet every year. Most of this is replaced by snowfall but any imbalance contributes to a change in global sea level.


A photo of the calving front of the Filchner Ice Shelf, Antarctica (credit: Jonathan Bamber)

For many decades, experts have believed that the most important process responsible for this huge loss was iceberg calving - the breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier.

New research, led by academics at the University of Bristol with colleagues at Utrecht University and the University of California, has used satellite and climate model data to prove that this sub-shelf melting has as large an impact as iceberg calving for Antarctica as a whole and for some areas is far more important.

The findings, published today [15 September] in Nature, are crucial for understanding how the ice sheet interacts with the rest of the climate system and particularly the ocean.

During the last decade, the Antarctic ice-sheet has been losing an increasing amount of its volume. The annual turnover of ice equates to 700 times the four cubic kilometres per year which makes up the entire domestic water supply for the UK.

Researchers found that, for some ice shelves, melting on its underbelly could account for as much as 90 per cent of the mass loss, while for others it was only 10 per cent.

Ice shelves which are thinning already were identified as losing most of their mass from this melting, a finding which will be a good indicator for which ice shelves may be particularly vulnerable to changes in ocean warming in the future.

The scientists used data from a suite of satellite and airborne missions to accurately measure the flow of the ice, its elevation and its thickness. These observations were combined with the output of a climate model for snowfall over the ice sheet.

They compared how much snow was falling on the surface and accumulating against how much ice was leaving the continent, entering the ocean and calving. By comparing these estimates, they were able to determine the proportion that was lost by each process.

Professor Jonathan Bamber, from the University of Bristol's School of Geographical Sciences, said: "Understanding how the largest ice mass on the planet loses ice to the oceans is one of the most fundamental things we need to know for Antarctica. Until recently, we assumed that most of the ice was lost through icebergs.

"Now we realise that melting underneath the ice shelves by the ocean is equally important and for some places, far more important. This knowledge is crucial for understanding how the ice sheets interact now, and in the future, to changes in climate."

The research was funded by an EU programme called ice2sea and a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded project called Resolving Antarctic mass TrEnds (RATES).

Image

A photo of the calving front of the Filchner Ice Shelf, Antarctica, is available to download from here (please credit Jonathan Bamber): https://fluff.bris.ac.uk/fluff/u1/inpaw/nLkaf9bwhupS7LOju3SFaAHbD/

Paper

'Calving fluxes and basal melt rates of Antarctic ice shelves', by Mathieu Depoorter, Jonathan Bamber, Jennifer Griggs, Stefan Ligtenberg, Michiel van den Broeke and Geir Moholdt in Nature.

About ice2sea

Ice2sea brings together the EU's scientific and operational expertise from 24 leading institutions across Europe and beyond. Improved projections of the contribution of ice to sea-level rise produced by this major programme funded by the European Commission's Framework 7 Programme (grant agreement 226375) will inform the fifth IPCC report (due later this month). In 2007, the fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted ice-sheets as the most significant remaining uncertainty in projections of sea-level rise.

About the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

NERC funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400m a year from the government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.

Issued by Philippa Walker, Press Officer at the University of Bristol, on +44 (0)117 928 7777 or philippa.walker@bristol.ac.uk

Philippa Walker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bristol.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>