Antarctica’s Sudden Ice Loss Affects Earth’s Gravity Field

PC: NASA

It seems like bad news from the Antarctic never stops coming. The region has suffered a sudden massive increase in ice loss in a previously stable region, scientists have revealed. The ice loss, reported in the journal Science, is so large that it causes small changes in the gravity field of the Earth.

Researchers who have been using measurements of the elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet made by satellites, found that the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change up until 2009. Around 2009, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse around 460 miles long suddenly accelerated shedding ice into the ocean at extra 56 billion metric tons of water into the oceans every year.

Dr Bert Wouters, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol, who lead the study said, “To date, the glaciers have added roughly 300 cubic km of water to the ocean. That’s the equivalent of the volume of nearly 350,000 Empire State Buildings 
combined.”

These sudden change cannot be explained by changes in snowfall or air temperature. Instead, the team attributes the rapid ice loss to warming oceans. The buttresses–ice shelves–that have been acting as stoppers for the glaciers have been eaten away from underneath by the warming ocean waters. Thus the stoppers lose their strength to hold back the glaciers.

Dr Wouters said, “To pinpoint the cause of the changes, more data need to be collected. A detailed knowledge of the geometry of the local ice shelves, the ocean floor topography, ice sheet thickness and glacier flow speeds are crucial to tell how much longer the thinning will continue.”

Link to the whole report at the University of Bristol site.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in environment news, science news

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