Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ice sheet retreat controlled by the landscape

17.10.2012
Ice-sheet retreat can halt temporarily during long phases of climate warming, according to scientists.

A UK team led by Durham University has found that the geometry of channels beneath the ice can be a strong control on ice behaviour, temporarily hiding the signals of retreat.


This is an Iceberg MargueriteBay.
Credit: Durham University

The findings, which provide the first simulation of past ice-sheet retreat and collapse over a ten thousand year period in Antarctica, shed new light on what makes ice stable or unstable and will help refine predictions of future ice extent and global sea-level rise, the researchers say.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that one of the main challenges in predicting future sea-level rise is to quantify and model the interactions between evolving ice sheets, oceans, sea level and climate. Significant efforts have been made over the last decade to develop computer models and collect data in order to reduce uncertainties and understand the potential impacts under scenarios of future climate change.

The results of the new research from Durham University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Cambridge, and the British Antarctic Survey are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Lead author Dr Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at the Department of Geography, Durham University, said: "Our research shows that the physical shape of the channels is a more important factor in controlling ice stability than was previously realised. Channel width can have a major effect on ice flow, and determines how fast retreat, and therefore sea-level rise, can happen.

Although climatic and oceanic changes are crucial drivers of ice loss, the research shows that the landscape below the ice strongly controls the speed of any retreat.

Dr Jamieson said: "Our results suggest that during an overall phase of retreat an ice stream can appear almost stable when in fact, in the longer-term, the opposite may be the case.

"Getting a clearer picture of the landscape beneath the ice is crucial if future predictions of change in the ice-sheets and sea level are to be improved."

Marine-based ice streams are the fast flowing arteries of ice sheets, draining approximately 90 per cent of the ice that reaches the sea. They flow through large channels where the ice can move thousands of metres in a year. According to the scientists, the unpredictable nature of ice streams makes forecasting ice-sheet retreat extremely difficult. If ice streams speed up they can cause sea level to rise.

Durham University co-author Dr Chris Stokes said: "Ice streams are like taps filling a bath, but the problem here is that we do not know if something is suddenly going to turn them up or even turn them down."

Satellite imagery from the last 20 years has led to advances in our knowledge of ice sheet stability and has shown that many ice streams are getting thinner and retreating because the ocean and climate are warming. The new research shows that ice behaviour over thousands of years can successfully be simulated in places where ice streams meet the sea.

The researchers looked at the landscape of the seafloor in Marguerite Bay, in the Antarctic Peninsula, and saw that during a rapid phase of recession 13,000 years ago, retreat paused many times. Using a computer model designed to work in situations of rapid change, they found they could reproduce the same pattern in a series of simulations. These showed that ice dragged on the sides of the channel more where it was narrow, causing retreat to slow and in places temporarily stop for decades to centuries before retreat continued.

Many ice streams are found in channels with beds that are below sea level and that deepen inland. Current theory suggests that ice loss can increase rapidly in deeper water, but the new findings show that channel width plays a crucial role and that narrow bottlenecks in the landscape beneath the ice can cause retreat to slow down.

Dr Andreas Vieli, Department of Geography, Durham University, said: "We can see from our simulations and from new maps of the ocean floor that these bottlenecks occur in the same place as pauses or slowdowns in past ice retreat. This means we should look more closely at the shape of the bed underneath Greenland and Antarctica to better understand how ice might retreat in the future."

The researchers say that understanding ice-stream behaviour and the rate of mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers is essential.

Dr Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, from the British Antarctic Survey, said: "Knowledge of the factors influencing stability and retreat of ice streams is of particular concern because significant portions of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are currently losing mass that contributes significantly to sea-level rise. Our model results help to explain the apparently time-transgressive retreat of ice streams around Antarctica following the last ice age."

The research was financially supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, UK.

Carl Stiansen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.durham.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>