Something Mysteriously Warms Antarctica Ice

28 February, 2012

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Follow us: - Very rapid climate changes take place on Antarctica.

"Something" mysteriously warms Antarctica Ice and it's a dangerous process.

The huge 18-mile-long crack that was discovered at the end of last year, is still growing and it remains unclear what is causing the sudden change in temperature.

Antarctica is getting warmer and the melting of ice is adding to global sea level rise.

"The Earth is losing an incredible amount of ice to the oceans annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet's cold regions are responding to global change," said CU-Boulder physics Professor John Wahr, who used satellite measurements obtained by GRACE

"The melting of the world's glaciers and ice caps, along with Greenland and Antarctica, pose the greatest threat to sea level increases in the future, Wahr said.

The Pine Island Glacier ice shelf is located on West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Antarctica, and covers an area of 175,000 km2 (68,000 sq mi).

Recently, NASA's Operation IceBridge conducted 24 science flight inspections over Antarctica.

During the six-week operation, a suite of most sophisticated instruments were focused on the thickness and depth of Antarctic ice sheets and glacial movement.

A low-level overflight on October 14, 2011, the IceBridge mission discovered a large, 18-mile-long crack that had recently begun across the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, one of the largest and fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica.

The crack's shoulders are about 820 feet apart (250 meters) at its widest, although the rift stretched about 260 feet wide along most of the crack.

The deepest points from the ice shelf surface ranged 165 to 195 feet (50 to 60 meters).

Pine Island Glacier and the growing crack. Photo Credits: NASA Goddard

The large crack is still growing. If everything goes well, in the next few months, the glacier will form an enormous iceberg, covering approximately 340 square (880 square kilometers) of surface area.

The fast recession of Pine Island Glacier, predicted to be a possible trigger for the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is attributed to enhanced basal melting of the glacier floating tongue by warm ocean waters.

"Pine Island Glacier is losing ice very quickly, about six meters per year," said Michael Studinger of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which sent an expedition Operation IceBridge to Antarctica in October last year.

The melting of glaciers and ice sheets adds water to the oceans, contributing to sea level rise.

Pine Island Glacier ice shelf rift (close-up). Photo Credits: (see more images here)

"We didn't expect to see such warm temperatures, and we don't yet know in detail what caused them. But they indicate that Antarctica's climate may have undergone rapid shifts during past periods of high CO2," Louise Sime said, one the scientists of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) investigating rapid Antarctic climate changes.

Credit: NASA Operation IceBridge Terra Satellite ASTER

In Antarctica, recent estimates show a sharp contrast between what is occurring in the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets. The acceleration of ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has doubled in recent years, which is similar to what has happened in Greenland, Climate Institute, Washington, DC., reports.

Earth's glaciers and ice caps outside of the regions of Greenland and Antarctica are shedding roughly 150 billion tons of ice annually, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The glacial streams are increasingly flowing into the ocean and melting of the large ice sheets may contribute to sea level rise, but as projections suggest that the rate of sea level rise is likely to increase during the 21st century.

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