New Research Helps Predict The Rate That Glaciers Will Melt

Researchers have documented in recent years that the Pine Island Glacier has been melting at a rapid pace and they believe they have discovered a significant factor outside of warming temperatures.

The Pine Island Glacier is part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and currently accounts for around 25 percent of all ice loss in Antarctica and around 10 percent of all ice loss globally. In 2007, it was found that the glacier was dwindling, releasing more water into the oceans than is replaced by snow.



Glaciers are essentially giant flowing rivers of ice and when they meet the sea, ocean waters can get underneath the lip of the glacier increasing the rate at which they melt. As the glacier flows from land to see, the speed at which the ice flows into the sea is also influenced by the land on which the glacier sits.

Recently, researchers have created the most detailed map yet of the land that is beneath the Antarctic glacier. The research, which was published in Nature Communications, show that the land under the glacier is far more varied than previously document and as result, slows the glacier in rugged terrains and quickens the glaciers pace in areas that are flat.

Topography of land under Pine Island Glacier. Bingham et al. 2017

At the current pace the glacier is traveling, it is expected to slide entirely into the surrounding waters within the next century.

Researchers have long been intrigued by the Pine Island Glacier and have been working on mapping the land under it’s for quite some time. The recent research shows that the land that sits 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) under the glacier is covered in mountain peeks, valleys and cliffs. The team accomplished this by using snowmobiles equipped with radar sensors to survey the glacier.

In a statement from Professor David Vaughan, from the British Antarctic Survey, he explained the significance of the findings. “These maps have revealed new features under Pine Island Glacier that we never thought were there. The bed turns out to be much rougher than we thought. There are mountains and deep scour marks which are clearly going to be influencing the flow and behavior of the ice. In order to really understand how the glacier is going to respond to future change, we need to understand its interaction with the bed and these high resolution maps let us begin to do this.”

These new findings are important as researchers can now better predict the speed the glacier will flow and predict the rate of ice loss. By predicting the rate of melt, scientist can better determine the time frame that ocean levels will rise. Hopefully, this info will assist in creating better policies in combating and slowing climate change.

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