Experts discover massive ice shelf melting in Antarctica – so large its changed the Earth’s gravity field

May 22, 2015 | by | 0 Comments
Sequence of images showing how the ice around the Southern Antarctic Peninsula is thinning. The area shaded red shows where the ice has thinned by more than 10 metres (SWNS)

Sequence of images showing how the ice around the Southern Antarctic Peninsula is thinning. The area shaded red shows where the ice has thinned by more than 10 metres (SWNS)

Experts have discovered an ice region in Antarctica is melting so rapidly it is affecting the Earth’s GRAVITATIONAL FIELD.

Global warming has altered the wind direction resulting in different current patterns in the sea – shifting warmer waters towards the ice.

Up until 2009 the glaciers in the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no sign of change, but new research has revealed ice is melting at an alarming rate.

Multiple glaciers, some up to 750km in length, have suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of about 55 trillion litres of water, each year.

This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of slowing down.

The latest study has found that the ice loss in the region is so large it has caused small changes in the gravity field of the Earth.

This is due to the fact that water mass has increased and as a result the field of gravity is decreasing.

Dr Bert Wouters, who led the study, said: “To date, the glaciers 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.

“The fact that so many glaciers in such a large region suddenly started to lose ice came as a surprise to us.

“It shows a very fast response of the ice sheet: in just a few years the dynamic regime completely shifted.”

The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Bristol, who used a satellite from the European Space Agency dedicated to remote-sensing of ice.

The satellite sent a radar pule to Earth, which was reflected by the ice and back to the satellite, allowing the elevation of the ice surface to be retrieved.

By analysing roughly 5 years of the data, the researchers found that the ice surface of some of the glaciers is currently going down by as much as 4m each year.

Data from an Antarctic climate model shows that the sudden change cannot be explained by changes in snowfall or air temperature.

Instead, the team attributes the rapid ice loss to warming oceans – caused by global warming altering wind patterns.

The calving front of a glacier on Livingstone Island located near the Antarctic Peninsula (SWNS)

The calving front of a glacier on Livingstone Island located near the Antarctic Peninsula (SWNS)

Westerly winds circling the Antarctica have become more vigorous due to the climate warming, and push warm waters poleward, where they eat away at the glaciers.

Researchers are worried that even if the glaciers retreat, the warm water will chase them inland and melt them even more.

Dr Wouters said further research would need to be carried out to ascertain how long the thinning would continue.

He added: “It appears that sometime around 2009, the ice shelf thinning and the subsurface melting of the glaciers passed a critical threshold which triggered the sudden ice loss.

“However, compared to other regions in Antarctica, the Southern Peninsula is rather understudied, because it did not show any changes in the past, ironically.

“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.”

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