It is believed that the ice shelves may be thinning due to changes in ocean heat content, either by ocean warming or from changes in how the ocean circulates around and below the shelves, but further research is needed to establish the specific reasons.
A Northumbria University researcher is part of a team that has produced the first physics-based quantifiable evidence that thinning ice shelves in Antarctica are causing more ice to flow from the land into the ocean.
Their findings have been published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Satellite measurements taken between 1994 and 2017 have detected significant changes in the thickness of the floating ice shelves that surround the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These shelves buttress against the land-based ice, holding them in place like a safety band.
While it has been suggested that the thinning ice shelves were responsible for a direct loss of ice from the land-based ice sheet into the ocean, there was no actual evidence linking data and physics that could demonstrate this, until now.
Researchers in the UK and US have now undertaken the first continent-wide assessment of the impact the thinning ice shelves are having on the flow of ice in Antarctica.
They were particularly interested in seeing how much ice flowed across the ‘grounding line’. This is the point where the land-based ice sheet meets the sea-based ice shelves.
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