A new study raises another alarm signal concerning the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ice shelves of the West Antarctic are at increased risk according to the latest study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, The Environmental Research Center and the Northumbria University.
The U.K. research team reinforced the findings of previous studies stating that the Antarctic ice is melting as temperature on the Southern Ocean is rising. As a result, global sea levels could rise by three meters. Although this scenario isn’t likely to play out by the end of this century, a gradual increase in the global sea levels isn’t less alarming.
A study conducted in 2014 found that some parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were destabilized as warmer water melted the base of the submarine glaciers. The huge Totten Glacier in East Antarctica faces the same risk. The ice of the Amundsen Sea isn’t far from suffering the same consequences due to warmer ocean waters. The ice shelves of the West Antarctic are at increased risk of melting as per the findings reported in the Nature Communications journal.
The research used a different approach than previous studies. The scientists looked at the landscape by analyzing mountain tops. These ice peaks piercing through the icy Ellsworth Mountains were key to assessing the changes the ice suffered on different slopes found at different altitudes.
Antarctica is blessed with a unique landscape, perhaps one most of us will never see in person. Its huge ice shelves are critical in ensuring that inland ice doesn’t speed away in the sea. The ice shelves act as buttresses keeping back the rapid flow of glaciers. If the ice shelves, these massive agglomerations of ice existing for thousands of years were to collapse, the phenomenon could wreck havoc.
The British scientists looked at the ice peaks in addition to the boulders deposited on the Ellsworth Mountains by melting glaciers. Using exposure dating, the research team gained insight knowledge on the timeframe the rocks have spent uncovered and exposed to the atmosphere. As warm periods fluctuated in the Antarctic region, the West Antarctic ice sheet lost ice gradually.
However, the ice loss occurred below sea level as the upland areas and the mountain tops under analysis didn’t reveal any clues of ice loss. Some regions of the West Antarctic ice sheet existed continuously for over 1.4 million years.
As such, the ice shelves of the West Antarctic are at increased risk due to the temperature spike in the ocean. If the ice shelves give in, the impact on global sea levels will be tremendous. Considering the West Antarctic glaciers have suffered accelerated melting just in the past 21 years up to 2014, the melting of the ice shelves would be the final blow delivered to coastal communities worldwide.