The research, which has important implications for climate change, is described in a paper published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
The existing theory leaves West Antarctica in a minor role in terms of the ice accumulation beginning 34 million years ago. Ice sheet growth on earth is believed to have developed on the higher and larger East Antarctic subcontinent while West Antarctica joined the process later around 14 million years ago. "But a problem exists with leaving West Antarctica out of the early ice history," said Wilson. "From other evidence, it is believed that the amount of ice that grew on earth at the 34 million year climate transition was too large to be accounted for by formation on East Antarctica alone, the most obvious location for ice sheet growth. Another site is needed to host the extra missing ice."
The new hypothesis may solve another conflict among climate scientists. Given that more ice grew than could be hosted on East Antarctica alone, some researchers have proposed that the missing ice formed in the northern hemisphere. This would have been many millions of years before the well-known documentation of ice growth there, which started about three million years ago; evidence for ice sheets in the northern hemisphere prior to that time is not established. The new bedrock model shows it is not necessary to have ice hosted in the northern polar regions at the start of global climate transition; West Antarctica could have accommodated the extra ice.
Luyendyk is also affiliated with UCSB's Institute for Crustal Studies. The National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs funded the research.
Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
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