Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New study shows major increase in West Antarctic glacial loss

27.03.2014

Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise, according to new research.

The amount of ice draining collectively from those half-dozen glaciers increased by 77 percent from 1973 to 2013, scientists report this month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.


An iceberg breaks off Pine Island Glacier’s calving front into the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Results from a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters reveal that this glacier in West Antarctica is discharging 69 percent more ice into the ocean than it was 40 years ago.

Credit: NASA/Maria-José Viñas


A satellite image of Pine Island Glacier shows an 18-mile-long crack across the glacier. Researchers used cracks and other physical features on the glaciers to calculate glacier acceleration by comparing image data from year to year to see how far the cracks traveled. Credit: NASA

Pine Island Glacier, the most active of the studied glaciers, has accelerated by 75 percent in 40 years, according to the paper. Thwaites Glacier, the widest glacier, started to accelerate in 2006, following a decade of stability.

The study is the first to look at the ice coming off the six most active West Antarctic glaciers over such an extended time period, said Jeremie Mouginot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine (UC-Irvine) who co-authored the paper. Almost 10 percent of the world’s sea-level rise per year comes from just these six glaciers, he said.

“What we found was a sustained increase in ice discharge—which has a significant impact on sea level rise,” he said.

The researchers studied the Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, all of which discharge ice into a vast bay known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica.

The amount of ice released by these six glaciers each year is comparable to the amount of ice draining from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet annually, Mouginot said. If melted completely, the glaciers’ disappearance would raise sea levels another 1.2 meters (four feet), according to co-author and UC-Irvine Professor Eric Rignot.

The decades of increasing speeds and ice loss are “a strong indication of a major, long-term leakage of ice into the ocean from that sector of Antarctica,” noted Rignot.

“This region is considered the potential leak point for Antarctica because of the low seabed. The only thing holding it in is the ice shelf,” said Robert Thomas, a glaciologist at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Va., who was not involved in the study.  Ice shelves are platforms of permanent floating ice that form where glaciers meet the sea. In West Antarctica, ice shelves prevent the glaciers investigated in the study from slipping more rapidly into the ocean.

Mouginot and his colleagues used satellite data to look at sequential images of the glaciers from 1973 to 2013. The scientists then calculated how fast the ice was moving by tracking surface features, such as cracks in the ice, to determine the distance the glaciers traveled from month to month and year to year.

While the study considered the six glaciers collectively, it also revealed unprecedented change on the individual glacier level. Thwaites Glacier, the largest of the six with a width of 120 kilometers (75 miles), experienced a decade of near-stability until 2006, when its speed picked up by 0.8 kilometers (half a mile) per year – a 33 percent increase in speed, according to the study. This is the first time that such changes on Thwaites Glacier have been observed, said Mouginot.

Of all the glaciers in the study, Pine Island Glacier accelerated the most since 1973, increasing by 1.7 kilometers (one mile), per year. That’s a 75 percent increase in speed from approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year in 1973 to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) per year in 2013.

Both Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers contribute the most to overall ice discharge—about three-fourths of the total amount documented in the study. However, scientists also documented even higher rates of increased discharge in some of the smaller glaciers. Smith and Pope Glaciers nearly tripled the amount of ice they drained into the ocean since 1973.

The research team also found that the Pine Island Glacier is accelerating along its entire drainage system—up to 230 kilometers (155 miles) inland from where it meets the ocean.

“This paper is important in showing that a glacier can actually ‘feel’ what is happening far downstream of itself,” said Thomas. “It means that if you disturb the ice sheet near the coast, the glaciers will feel the push and rapidly respond hundreds of kilometers inland.”

This finding suggests that glacier acceleration models may need to be reevaluated, Thomas added. Most current models only take into account isolated speed changes resulting from a local disturbance, rather than representing how these changes affect the glacier as a whole.

This research was funded by a grant from the NASA’s Cryospheric Science Program and MEaSUREs program.

Notes for Journalists

Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this article by clicking on this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2013GL059069/abstract

Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Alexandra Branscombe at abranscombe@agu.org. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.

Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.

Title

“Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013”

Authors:
J. Mouginot: Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA;

E. Rignot: Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA; and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA;

B. Scheuchl: Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA.

Contact information for the authors:
Jeremie Mouginot, +1 (949) 824-3931, jmougino@uci.edu

AGU Contact:

Alexandra Branscombe
+1 (202) 777-7516
abranscombe@agu.org

Media Contacts

Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

Further reports about: Antarctic Antarctica Geophysical Glacier Island glaciers

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Two satellites see newborn Tropical Storm Jimena consolidating
28.08.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NASA's GPM satellite analyzes Tropical Storm Erika's rainfall
28.08.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: OU astrophysicist and collaborators find supermassive black holes in quasar nearest Earth

A University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The discovery of two supermassive black holes--one larger one and a second, smaller one--are evidence of a binary black hole and suggests that supermassive...

Im Focus: What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?

A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean. The results show how tsunami waves could hit and inundate coastal areas in southern Italy and Greece. The study is published today (27 August) in Ocean Science, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Though not as frequent as in the Pacific and Indian oceans, tsunamis also occur in the Mediterranean, mainly due to earthquakes generated when the African...

Im Focus: Self-healing landscape: landslides after earthquake

In mountainous regions earthquakes often cause strong landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy rain. However, after an initial increase, the frequency of these mass wasting events, often enormous and dangerous, declines, in fact independently of meteorological events and aftershocks.

These new findings are presented by a German-Franco-Japanese team of geoscientists in the current issue of the journal Geology, under the lead of the GFZ...

Im Focus: FIC Proteins Send Bacteria Into Hibernation

Bacteria do not cease to amaze us with their survival strategies. A research team from the University of Basel's Biozentrum has now discovered how bacteria enter a sleep mode using a so-called FIC toxin. In the current issue of “Cell Reports”, the scientists describe the mechanism of action and also explain why their discovery provides new insights into the evolution of pathogens.

For many poisons there are antidotes which neutralize their toxic effect. Toxin-antitoxin systems in bacteria work in a similar manner: As long as a cell...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer IPA develops prototype of intelligent care cart

It comes when called, bringing care utensils with it and recording how they are used: Fraunhofer IPA is developing an intelligent care cart that provides care staff with physical and informational support in their day-to-day work. The scientists at Fraunhofer IPA have now completed a first prototype. In doing so, they are continuing in their efforts to improve working conditions in the care sector and are developing solutions designed to address the challenges of demographic change.

Technical assistance systems can improve the difficult working conditions in residential nursing homes and hospitals by helping the staff in their work and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking conference in Heidelberg for outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists

20.08.2015 | Event News

Scientists meet in Münster for the world’s largest Chitin und Chitosan Conference

20.08.2015 | Event News

Large agribusiness management strategies

19.08.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

28.08.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

An ounce of prevention: Research advances on 'scourge' of transplant wards

28.08.2015 | Health and Medicine

Fish Oil-Diet Benefits May be Mediated by Gut Microbes

28.08.2015 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>