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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Slip-slidin' away

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, May 13, 2014/Categories: video, sustainability, environment, climate change

I grew up near Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles. As a kid, I always thought the researchers there worked on very cool projects. They regularly made the news in my hometown.

Most folks think the Lab only develops space probes and robotic rovers. However, JPL has also been deeply involved with long-term environmental and geoscience studies. One of those projects gained a great deal of attention with their announcement about Antarctica just released.

Using remote sensing radar mapping and other tools, the research investigators determined that the West Antarctic ice sheet has passed a tipping point and has begun sliding unstoppably into the Amundsen Sea. The reasons for this are a complex combination of geology (the ice sheet sits below sea level on the ocean's bedrock); the upwelling of warmer water from deeper ocean depths (warmer water melts the underside of the ice sheet allowing it to slip along the bedrock faster); and increased wind patterns (the atmospheric warming and the ozone hole create faster winds affecting the ocean's currents around the continent).

The consequence of these factors have allowed the ice-sheet to begin moving faster into the ocean and breaking apart. The process is speeding up. If all the West Antarctic glaciers producing the ice-sheet were to melt, global sea level could rise 10 feet or more by the end of the 21st Century. Cities, lowland landscapes, and islands would be affected globally.

West Antarctica Glacies and Amundsen Sea  (credit: JPL, NASA, University of California)

One of the chief NASA investigators explains the physical and environmental processes here:

At this point, there is little do to reverse what has been unleashed. Get ready for more severe climate induced environmental and economic impacts. Cheery thoughts indeed!


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