Rising sea levels 20,000 years ago, as the last ice age was beginning to wane, often are attributed in part to melting in West Antarctica.
But in a new study led by University of Washington researchers, an ice core of 1,000 meters was used as a sort of dipstick to show that a key section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet probably never contained as much ice as scientists originally thought it did. That means it couldn’t have contributed as much to the higher sea level. In an area called Siple Dome, the ice sheet currently rises 1,000 meters – more than half a mile – above a bedrock plateau. Some computer reconstructions indicate it was perhaps twice as thick at the end of the last ice age, also called the Last Glacial Maximum.
But evidence from an ice core extracted near Siple Dome from 1997-99, along with other calculations, indicates ice in that area has lost only 200 to 400 meters of its thickness in the last 20,000 years, said Edwin Waddington, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. Like water on a hillside, Siple Dome ice flows down into adjacent ice streams, where it continues to the nearby Ross Ice Shelf, a part of a bay on the Ross Sea that is covered with floating glacier ice. "Then the whole thing spreads out like oil on water," Waddington said.
Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
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