Antarctic Glacier Rapidly Melting
September 19, 2013

Antarctic Glacier Melting At Rapid Two Inches Per Day

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

When it comes to predicting the effects of global warming on our environment, scientists look to the world’s glaciers, exceptionally large masses of ice which are melting into the sea. Now researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks say they've completed a thorough examination of these melting glaciers to get a better picture of how climate change is affecting Earth.

Specifically, the researchers examined the ice melt from below the Pine Island glacier in the West Antarctic Sea. They found that this particular chunk of ice is melting at a rapid 2-inches per day in some spots which could, in turn, spawn new icebergs such as the one which broke free of the glacier in July.

Martin Truffer, a physics professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Tim Stanton, an oceanographer with the Naval Postgraduate School, completed the work which is now featured in the current issue of Science.

“This particular site is crucial, because the bottom of the ice in that sector of Antarctica is grounded well below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to melt from the ocean and break up,” said Truffer in a statement.

“I think it is fair to say that the largest potential sea level rise signal in the next century is going to come from this area.”

Stanton and Truffer worked together with an international team of scientists to complete this study earlier this year.

Glaciers are quite large and, as such, it's no easy task to get to their literal bottom and measure how quickly they’re melting. For reference, the piece of ice which separated from the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica a few months ago was measured to be about eight times the size of the island of Manhattan.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) team used a special drill to break through the ice in order to take measurements. Even getting the equipment to the location proved to be a chore, but Truffer said his team had the expertise to deploy these tools and gather accurate data from beneath the massive chunk of ice.

“UAF’s part was to accomplish the drilling,” said Truffer. "We have a hot water drill that is modular enough to be deployed by relatively small airplanes and helicopters, and we have the expertise to carry this out."

With this data in hand, both Stanton and Truffer hope scientists from around the world will be able make accurate predictions about where the earth’s climate is headed and how to best prepare for it.

Elsewhere in the world scientists are keeping a close eye on other glaciers and ice sheets with the same goal in mind.

Recent research from the east side of Antarctica has shown the world’s largest ice sheet in the area to be more vulnerable than scientists had previously thought. After compiling declassified spy satellite imagery gathered for nearly 50 years, the team found that these glaciers may be more resilient than other glaciers in Greenland or West Antarctica, but the current climate trends could do more damage to these large ice sheets than previously thought.

Dr. Chris Stokes from Durham’s Department of Geography conducted the research and noted: “If the climate is going to warm in the future, our study shows that large parts of the margins of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are vulnerable to the kinds of changes that are worrying us in Greenland and West Antarctica – acceleration, thinning and retreat.”