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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Antarctica glaciers

Antarctica glaciers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, October 27, 2016/Categories: natural history, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change

Smith, Pope, and Kohler Glaciers Flow into the Dotson and Crosson Ice Shelves, Antarctica (credit: UCI & JPL)

Researchers at the University of California and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have measured glacial retreat in West Antarctica, and they are fastest rates ever observed. The data provides an unparalleled view of ice melt from the floating ice shelfs. The three glaciers flow ice into the Dotson and Crosson shelves in the Amundsen Sea. The new study shows how interactions between ocean conditions and bedrock beneath a glacier can influence its mass and will help with future predictions of Antarctica ice loss and global sea level rise.

According to the research published in Geophysical Research Letters, satellites and radar instruments tracked the grounding line, or the boundary where a glacier loses contact with bedrock and begins to float, and determined: "Smith Glacier’s grounding line had retreated 1.24 miles per year since 1996; Pope Glacier’s grounding line receded more slowly at 0.31 miles annually since 1996; while Kohler Glacier’s grounding line, which had gradually retreated, actually readvanced 1.24 miles since 2011."

Data was gathered using different measureing tools. Radar waves penetrated the glaciers to their base, allowing direct assessment of the bottom profiles of the three glaciers and how they differed at their grounding lines. Lasers were used to measure surface elevation and then infer changes in the thickness of the floating ice sheets. Between 2002 and 2014 were years when rapid mass loss was seen around the Amundsen Sea. The regional scale of the glacial decline was suspected as resulting from an increase in the influx of ocean heat beneath the ice shelves. As one researcher noted,

“the data provides a crucial piece of evidence to support the suspicion as they directly reveal the intensity of ice melting at the bottom of the glaciers during the period.”

 

As climate change accelerates, expect to hear a great deal more about ice sheets in West Antarctica in coming years.

WHB

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