Thursday 6 April 2023

‘Antarctic melting could be quicker than scientists thought’

‘Antarctic melting could be quicker than scientists thought’

Scientists suggest the melting ice sheet in Antarctica may vanish much more quickly than previously thought.

The research team examined markings on the seafloor near Norway, which document the retreat of a melting European ice sheet thousands of years ago.

At present, the fastest glaciers in Antarctica are observed to disappear by up to 30 meters per day – but if this rate increases, the excess water produced by melting could be detrimental to global sea levels.

The scientists discovered that the maximum retreat of the Norwegian ice sheet was over 600 metres each day, a speed that may be seen in Antarctica if temperatures continue to rise.

The researchers stress there are already areas in Antarctica where comparable withdrawal rates may occur due to melting.

The melting of Antarctica's ice sheet has already contributed to a nearly one centimetre rise in global sea levels since the 1990s.

To conduct their research, published in Nature, the scientists investigated seafloor ridges, which form when melted ice from glaciers becomes buoyant in the ocean and begins to float.

The team discovered that the most rapid retreat rates of the European ice sheet occurred in areas where the seafloor was relatively flat. This is due to the ice above being more uniform in thickness, requiring less melting to enable it to float and retreat.

While satellites currently monitor Antarctica's glaciers' grounding zones, the study suggests that the potential for swift retreats in certain areas of the continent is concerning.

Massive glaciers such as Thwaites, which is the size of Britain, could raise global sea levels significantly if they were to melt entirely, underscoring the urgency of addressing climate change to prevent further harm to the planet.

Dr Christine Batchelor from Newcastle University, who worked on the study, said: “This is something we could see if we continue with the upper estimates for temperature rise. Although, worryingly, when we did the equations to think about what would be needed to instigate such retreat in Antarctica, we actually found there are places where you could get similar pulses of withdrawal even under the basal melt rates we know are happening at the moment.”

Written by

Bruna Pinhoni

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