These Antarctic glaciers are melting at a ‘staggering’ rate

Categories: Big picture
Published on: October 26, 2016

Gizmodo / Maddie Stone / 25 October 2016

antartic-glaciersScientists have long viewed the Amundsen sea embayment as the Achilles heel of West Antarctica, with papers in the 1970s and ‘80s describing it as “uniquely vulnerable,” “unstable,” and the “weak underbelly” of the continent. The fear, then and now, was that warm ocean waters lapping against the foot of the glaciers could cause the ice to pop up off of its rocky floor, like ice cubes rising as a soft drink is poured into a glass. When ice detaches from its so-called “grounding line,” it kickstarts a chain reaction that can trigger a lot of melting.

“When water gets between ice and land, it moves quickly, bringing lots of heat in, and melting the ice above it more rapidly,” said Thomas Wagner, the director of NASA’s polar science program. “The Amundsen sea embayment is a place where we know this is happening.”

Indeed, satellite and radar data show that two of West Antarctica’s largest glaciers, Pine Island and Thwaites, have seen their grounding line retreat many miles since 2000, causing fresh water to pour off the ice and into the ocean. This process is so effective that glaciologists recently declared the total collapse of the Amundsen sea embayment—whose glaciers contain enough water to raise global sea levels by four feet—to be “unstoppable.”

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