Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is under way

15.05.2014

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds enough water to raise global seas by several feet, is thinning. Scientists have been warning of its collapse, based on theories, but with few firm predictions or timelines.

University of Washington researchers used detailed topography maps and computer modeling to show that the collapse appears to have already begun. The fast-moving Thwaites Glacier will likely disappear in a matter of centuries, researchers say, raising sea level by nearly 2 feet.


This is a photo of the Thwaites ice shelf taken during an October 2013 Operation IceBridge aerial survey.

Credit: James Yungel / NASA


This is a high-resolution map of Thwaites Glacier's thinning ice shelf. Warm circumpolar deep water is melting the underside of this floating shelf, leading to an ongoing speedup of Thwaites Glacier. This glacier now appears to be in the early stages of collapse, with full collapse potentially occurring within a few centuries. Collapse of this glacier would raise global sea level by several tens of centimeters, with a total rise by up to a few meters if it causes a broader collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Credit: David Shean / Univ. of Washington

That glacier also acts as a linchpin on the rest of the ice sheet, which contains enough ice to cause another 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) of global sea level rise. The study is published May 16 in Science.

"There's been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is under way," said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory. "This study provides a more quantitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place."

... more about:
»Antarctic »Antarctica »Glacier »Physics »measurements

The good news is that while the word "collapse" implies a sudden change, the fastest scenario is 200 years, and the longest is more than 1,000 years. The bad news is that such a collapse may be inevitable.

"Previously, when we saw thinning we didn't necessarily know whether the glacier could slow down later, spontaneously or through some feedback," Joughin said. "In our model simulations it looks like all the feedbacks tend to point toward it actually accelerating over time; there's no real stabilizing mechanism we can see."

Earlier warnings of collapse had been based on a simplified model of ice sitting in an inward-sloping basin. The topography around Antarctica, however, is complex. The new study used airborne radar, developed at the University of Kansas with funding from the National Science Foundation, to image through the thick ice and map the topography of the underlying bedrock, whose shape controls the ice sheet's long-term stability.

The mapping was done as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, and included other instruments to measure the height of the ice sheet's rapidly thinning surface. In some places Thwaites Glacier has been losing tens of feet, or several meters, of elevation per year.

UW researchers combined that data with their own satellite measurements of ice surface speeds. Their computer model was able to reproduce the glacier's ice loss during the past 18 years, and they ran the model forward under different amounts of ocean-driven melting.

The place where the glacier meets land, the grounding line, now sits on a shallower ridge with a depth of about 2,000 feet (600 meters). Results show that as the ice edge retreats into the deeper part of the bay, the ice face will become steeper and, like a towering pile of sand, the fluid glacier will become less stable and collapse out toward the sea.

"Once it really gets past this shallow part, it's going to start to lose ice very rapidly," Joughin said.

The study considered future scenarios using faster or slower melt rates depending on the amount of future warming. The fastest melt rate led to the early stages lasting 200 years, after which the rapid-stage collapse began. The slowest melt rate kept most of the ice for more than a millennium before the onset of rapid collapse. The most likely scenarios may be between 200 and 500 years, Joughin said.

"All of our simulations show it will retreat at less than a millimeter of sea level rise per year for a couple of hundred years, and then, boom, it just starts to really go," Joughin said.

Researchers did not model the more chaotic rapid collapse, but the remaining ice is expected to disappear within a few decades.

The thinning of the ice in recent decades is most likely related to climate change, Joughin said. More emissions would lead to more melting and faster collapse, but other factors make it hard to predict how much time we could buy under different scenarios.

###

The other co-authors are Benjamin Smith at the UW and Brooke Medley, who did her doctorate at the UW and is now at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

For more information, contact Joughin at 206-221-3177 or ian@apl.washington.edu.

Hannah Hickey | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

Further reports about: Antarctic Antarctica Glacier Physics measurements

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht ChemCam findings hint at oxygen-rich past on Mars
28.06.2016 | DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

nachricht Previously unknown global ecological disaster discovered
28.06.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Flexible OLED applications arrive

R2D2, a joint project to analyze and development high-TRL processes and technologies for manufacture of flexible organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been successfully completed.

In contrast to point light sources like LEDs made of inorganic semiconductor crystals, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are light-emitting surfaces. Their...

Im Focus: Unexpected flexibility found in odorant molecules

High resolution rotational spectroscopy reveals an unprecedented number of conformations of an odorant molecule – a new world record!

In a recent publication in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter...

Im Focus: 3-D printing produces cartilage from strands of bioink

Strands of cow cartilage substitute for ink in a 3D bioprinting process that may one day create cartilage patches for worn out joints, according to a team of engineers. "Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn out tissue or design patches," said Ibrahim T. Ozbolat, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics. "Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this."

Cartilage is a good tissue to target for scale-up bioprinting because it is made up of only one cell type and has no blood vessels within the tissue. It is...

Im Focus: First experimental quantum simulation of particle physics phenomena

Physicists in Innsbruck have realized the first quantum simulation of lattice gauge theories, building a bridge between high-energy theory and atomic physics. In the journal Nature, Rainer Blatt‘s and Peter Zoller’s research teams describe how they simulated the creation of elementary particle pairs out of the vacuum by using a quantum computer.

Elementary particles are the fundamental buildings blocks of matter, and their properties are described by the Standard Model of particle physics. The...

Im Focus: Is There Life On Mars?

Survivalist back from Space - 18 months on the outer skin of the ISS

A year and a half on the outer wall of the International Space Station ISS in altitude of 400 kilometers is a real challenge. Whether a primordial bacterium...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ERES 2016: The largest conference in the European real estate industry

09.06.2016 | Event News

Networking 4.0: International Laser Technology Congress AKL’16 Shows New Ways of Cooperations

24.05.2016 | Event News

Challenges of rural labor markets

20.05.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists explain unusual and effective features in perovskite

28.06.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

ChemCam findings hint at oxygen-rich past on Mars

28.06.2016 | Earth Sciences

Previously unknown global ecological disaster discovered

28.06.2016 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>