Geologists and climatologists are concerned about the sudden loss of ice which Antarctica experiences. After analyzing the Southern Antarctic Peninsula researchers have discovered that since 2009 a big part of the region has destabilized and this represents an important fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to the rising levels of the sea.
The study conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol (UK) was published in the journal Science. The investigators examined satellite data to measure glacier loss in the past ten years. They examined the Antarctic Peninsula, which is a poorly studied area. The lead author of the study, Bert Wouters, said that the glacier added to the ocean nearly 300 cubic km of water. He explained that this represents the equivalent of the combined volume of approximately 350.000 of Empire State Buildings.
Wouters said that it came as a surprise for them to discover that suddenly so many glaciers in such a large region started to lose ice. According to him this indicates a very quick response of the ice sheets and the fact that the dynamic regime changed completely in just a few years.
The researchers used information from the European Space Agency’s Cryosat 2 satellite. It seems that around 2009 the melting of the subsurface of the glaciers and the thinning of the ice shelf passed a critical threshold which generated a sudden ice loss. Wouters remarked:
“Compared to other regions in Antarctica, the Southern Peninsula is rather understudied, exactly because it did not show any changes in the past, ironically.”
According to the research the rapid changes could not be accounted for by temperature fluctuations in the atmosphere or by snowfall variations. The researchers attributed the changes to warmer seas which affected the submerged ice shelves which hold back larger glaciers. This means that while the submerged shelves melt the glaciers are funneled into the sea by the natural contours of the area. What causes the warmer sea temperatures is the increased global warming.
Jonathan Bamber, co-author of the study remarked that this has become one of the three alarming signals which scientists have observed in different parts of West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. The other two signs were the losses of ice in the region of the Larsen ice shelf and in West Antarctica.
The researchers concluded that in order to establish the exact cause of the changes more data is needed such as the ocean floor topography, the geometry of the local ice shelves, the thickness of the ice sheet and the speed of the glacier flow.
Image Source: Guillermo Abramson