The Pine Island Glacier, one of Antarctica’s largest glaciers is breaking apart from the inside. Scientists fear that the west Antarctic ice shelf will be completely gone in 100 years’ time. The researchers noticed a crack in the Pine Island Glacier through satellite images and now fear that its melting is going to result in a devastating flood.
A similar event occurred in 2015 when a 225-square-mile piece of ice broke free from the Pine Island Glacier. Moreover, a team of researchers from the Ohio State University was able to notice the strange behavior only two years before the event through an image-processing software.
The images showed a rift forming at the base of the glacier approximately twenty miles inland. Over the course of the next two years, the rift expanded. Ultimately, it broke through the ice and sent the iceberg adrift for almost two weeks in the late summer of 2015.
Now, three years later after the last rift opened in the Antarctic ice shelf, another crack marks the negative effect of the global warming on the southernmost continent’s climate.
“It’s no longer a question of whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt, it’s a question of when”, says the associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, Ian Howat.
The incident closely resembles other breakups also visible on the Greenland’s ice shelf. However, the cracks in the Greenland’s ice sheet were generated by the ocean waters seeping inland and ultimately melting the ice from underneath. The main difference in the West Antarctic incident is that the melting began from inside the Pine Island Glacier. This led Mr. Howat to believe that something is to blame for weakening the core of the ice shelf itself.
Even more worrying is the fact that the ocean waters can seep far inland without someone noticing. This is possible mainly because the West Antarctic Ice Shelf’s bottom is located below the sea level. Furthermore, the team of researchers almost missed the rift in the glacier. The only thing that raised the team’s suspicion was the way shadows were cast on the surface of the ice shelf in low light.
The Pine Island Glacier together with the Thwaites Glacier act like natural dams. If they were to break or melt, as the scientists fear, this would lead to a massive flood. However, as unstable as numerous studies find the West Antarctic Ice Shelf to be, the scientists predict that it is likely to collapse somewhere in the next 100 years. The resulting flood will displace over 100 million individuals living in coastal cities like Miami and New York and the sea level will rise approximately 10 feet.
Image Source: Pixabay