A recent study suggests that geothermal heating found under the Antarctic ice sheet may eventually lead to its melting.
Geothermal sources are at the base of the high amounts of heat that flows at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet base. The study, conducted at the University of California, Santa Cruz, reveals some new data that can be used to analyze the fast decline of the ice sheet in the past ten years.
There a number of studies that deal with the melting of the ice sheet, but the study led by Andre Fisher, who is a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, doesn’t point to the geothermal heating as being a cause of the ice loss.
In fact, the study analyzes the geothermal heating as being a pre-existing and slow working factor which may eventually lead to more ice loss in the ice sheet, when combined with numerous other factors. Professor Fisher went on to explain that the ice sheet simply evolved and developed along with the geothermal heat below it and it is part of the system. However, this could be the explanation as to why the ice sheet is very unstable. He claimed that the effects of global warming can make things change drastically.
Analyzing the geothermal sources responsible for the high heat beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may also provide an insight on how the lakes that are underpinning the ice sheet as well, have developed. The streams and lakes that form under the West Antarctic are acting as lubrication for the motion of the ice streams and carry them onto ice shelves. However, too much water can be dangerous to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The research carried out at the UC Santa Cruz is part of an Antarctic drilling project called The Williams Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, or WISSARD for short, and was funded by the National Science Foundation. The study refers to a location called the Subglacial Lake Whillans, which is beneath the ice, at a depth of one mile. A probe was lowered underneath Lake Whillans, in the sediments. The thermal probe was designed at UC Santa Cruz.
The study is supporting other recent researches that analyze the hot ocean currents that flow underneath the layer of ice and which are accelerating the ice loss in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The study has been published on July 10 in the journal Science Advances.
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