Antarctica’s vast ice masses seem far away, yet they store enough water to raise global sea levels by several meters.
Antarctica’s vast ice masses seem far away, yet they store enough water to raise global sea levels by several meters. A team of experts from European research institutes has now provided the first systematic stability inspection of the ice sheet’s current state. Their diagnosis: While they found no indication of irreversible, self-reinforcing retreat of the ice sheet in West Antarctica yet, global warming to date could already be enough to trigger the slow but certain loss of ice over the next hundreds to thousands of years.
“With more and more ice being lost in Antarctica over the last years, concerns have been raised whether a tipping point has already been crossed and an irreversible, long-term collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has already been initiated,” explains Ronja Reese from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Northumbria University, Newcastle. “The results of our studies deliver two messages: First, while a number of glaciers in Antarctica are retreating at the moment, we find no indication of irreversible, self-reinforcing retreat yet, which is reassuring. However, our calculations also clearly indicate that an onset of an irreversible retreat of the ice sheet in West Antarctica is possible if the current state of the climate is sustained.”
The main driver of ice loss in West Antarctica is relatively warm ocean water that amplifies melting underneath the ice shelves, which are the floating extensions of the grounded ice sheet. Melting of these ice shelves can enhance ice loss as it speeds up the grounded sections of the ice sheet. That is why the Antarctic margin with its grounding lines – the zone where the grounded and the floating ice are connected – is a key indicator of ice sheet health. An accelerated retreat of the grounding lines could indicate a forthcoming collapse of large marine regions of West Antarctica’s ice sheet - those parts of the ice sheet that are grounded below sea level.
Read more at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Photo Credit: Pexels via Pixabay