Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Underlying ocean melts ice shelf, speeds up glacier movement

13.09.2013
Warm ocean water, not warm air, is melting the Pine Island Glacier's floating ice shelf in Antarctica and may be the culprit for increased melting of other ice shelves, according to an international team of researchers.

"We've been dumping heat into the atmosphere for years and the oceans have been doing their job, taking it out of the air and into the ocean," said Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professor of geosciences, Penn State. "Eventually, with all that atmospheric heat, the oceans will heat up."


This is a researcher's remote field camp on Pine Island Glacier.

Credit: Kiya Riverman, Penn State

The researchers looked at the remote Pine Island Glacier, a major outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet because it has rapidly thinned and accelerated in the recent past.

"It has taken years and years to do the logistics because it is so remote from established permanent bases," said Anandakrishnan.

Pine Island Glacier or PIG lies far from McMurdo base, the usual location of American research in Antarctica. Work done in the southern hemisphere's summer, December through January 2012-13, included drilling holes in the ice to place a variety of instruments and using radar to map the underside of the ice shelf and the bottom of the ocean. Penn State researchers did the geophysics for the project and the research team's results are reported today (Sept. 13) in Science.

The ice shelf is melting more rapidly from below for a number of reasons. The oceans are warmer than they have been in the past and water can transfer more heat than air. More importantly, the terrain beneath the ice shelf is a series of channels. The floating ice in the channel has ample room beneath it for ocean water to flow in. The water melts some of the ice beneath and cools. If the water remained in the channel, the water would eventually cool to a point where it was not melting much ice, but the channels allow the water to flow out to the open ocean and warmer water to flow in, again melting the ice shelf from beneath.

"The way the ocean water is melting the ice shelf is a deeply non-uniform way," said Anandakrishnan. "That's going to be more effective in breaking these ice shelves apart."

The breaking apart of the ice shelf in the channels is similar to removing an ice jam from a river. The shelf was plugging the channel, but once it is gone, the glacier moves more rapidly toward the sea, forming more ice shelf, but removing large amounts of ice from the glacier.

The melting of floating ice shelves does not contribute to sea level rise because once they are in the water, the ice shelves have already contributed to sea level rise. However, most of the Antarctic glaciers are on land, and rapidly adding new ice shelf material to the floating mass will increase sea level rise.

"Antarctica is relatively stable, but that won't last forever, said Anandakrishnan. "This is a harbinger of what will happen."

The researchers believe that the interaction of the ocean beneath the ice shelf and melting of the ice shelf is an important variable that should be incorporated into the sea level rise models of global warming. Other recent research shows that without the channelized underbelly of the ice shelf and glacier, melting would be even more rapid.

"The Antarctic has been relatively quiet as a contributor to sea rise," said Anandakrishnan. "What this work shows is that we have been blind to a huge phenomenon, something that will be as big a player in sea level rise in the next century as any other contributor."

Also working on this project were Tim Stanton, research professor, and William J. Shaw, research assistant professor, Department of Oceanography, Naval Postgraduate School; Martin Truffer, professor of physics, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Hugh Corr, British Antarctic Survey; Leo E. Peters, research associate, Kiya L. Riverman, graduate student, both of Penn State; Robert Bindschadler, emeritus scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; and David M. Holland, professor of mathematics, New York University.

The National Science Foundation, NASA and the Natural Environment Research Council, UK, supported this work.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>