Global warming in Antarctica: Glaciers accelerating, west Antarctic ice sheet losing mass

Scientists have been studying the climate change impact on ice shelfs and glaciers for some time in Antarctica, and particularly around the Antarctic Peninsula where there is substantial warming occurring increasing ice shelf melt and the speed and discharge of glaciers. The most recent studies predict a faster retreat for the Thwaites Glacier and that warm ocean currents are already speeding the melting of the Pine Island Glacier and Ice Shelf and Getz Ice Shelf. A NASA Icebridge flight detected a major new rift in the Pine Island ice shelf on October 14 - the start of the calving of a massive iceberg. A recent paper in Nature Geoscience discusses the Stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet in a warming world and the likelihood of collapse that would raise sea level by more than three metres over the course of several centuries or less.

Related: Record Increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2010 | The Wilkins ice Bridge collapsed in April 2009 as Polar regions felt the heat of climate change. I reported as far back as 2004 that warming in Antarctica was cause for concern with ocean food chain crashing due to Antarctic warming. More recently in April 2011 I discussed Penguin numbers suffering with krill decline due to Global Warming.

Thwaites Glacier expected to accelerate

The latest study of the Thwaites glacier has identified an underwater ridge critical to the future rate of flow of the glacier. The ridge currently holds back the glacier hindering its speed and discharge. As the glacier detaches from the ridge sometime in the next 20 years, it is expected to accelerate into the Amundsen Sea.

Geophysicist Robin Bell, study co-author, compared the ridge in front of Thwaites to a person standing in a doorway, holding back a crowd. “Knowing the ridge is there lets us understand why the wide ice tongue that used to be in front of the glacier has broken up,” she said. “We can now predict when the last bit of floating ice will lift off the ridge. We expect more ice will come streaming out of the Thwaites Glacier when this happens.”

“The bathymetry is the roadmap for how warm ocean water reaches the edges of the ice sheet,” she added. “Ridges like this one and the one discovered in front of Pine Island Glacier stabilize ice sheets, but can also be a critical part of the destabilizing process.”

Pine Island Glacier showing continuous acceleration

The neighboring Pine Island glacier has been undermined from below by warmer ocean water speeding the melting and discharge of the glacier as a whole. Scientists used a remote controlled submarine in 2009 to study underneath the Pine Island ice shelf and discovered a ridge about half the size of the one anchoring the Thwaites glacier. They estimated the Pine Island glacier detached from this ridge in the 1970s starting the process of ocean water undermining the glacier.

“More warm water from the deep ocean is entering the cavity beneath the ice shelf, and it is warmest where the ice is thickest,” said study’s lead author, Stan Jacobs, an oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The Pine Island glacier’s ice shelf is now moving 50 percent faster than it was in the early 1990s. Pine Island Glacier is moving into the sea at the rate of 4 kilometers a year — four times faster than the fastest-moving section of Thwaites.

The research was published in Nature Geoscience in June 2010 as Observations beneath Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica and implications for its retreat (Abstract). The abstract reports that

"Thinning ice in West Antarctica, resulting from acceleration in the flow of outlet glaciers, is at present contributing about 10% of the observed rise in global sea level1. Pine Island Glacier in particular has shown nearly continuous acceleration and thinning throughout the short observational record. The floating ice shelf that forms where the glacier reaches the coast has been thinning rapidly, driven by changes in ocean heat transport beneath it. As a result, the line that separates grounded and floating ice has retreated inland. These events have been postulated as the cause for the inland thinning and acceleration....The pace and ultimate extent of such potentially unstable retreat10 are central to the debate over the possibility of widespread ice-sheet collapse triggered by climate change.

During the October 2011 NASA Icebridge Project flight on October 14 a huge crack running across the entire width of the Pine Island ice shelf was observed.

"It's part of a natural cycle, but it's still very interesting and impressive to see up close," said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger. "It looks like a significant part of the ice shelf is ready to break off." The IceBridge team made a preliminary calculation that the area that could calve in the coming months covers about 310 square miles (800 square kilometers), Studinger said. The team on the DC-8 observed the crack running across the breadth of the ice shelf.

Watch the related video from the NASA Icebridge flight, or view photos at flickr:

West Antarctic Ice Sheet losing mass - stability threatened

According to a recent review published in Nature Geoscience by Ian Joughin and Richard B. Alley - Stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet in a warming world (Abstract and Full paper) - recent observations by satellite show substantial mass loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS). Losses range from 100 to 200 Gigatonnes per year, the equivalent to 0.28 to 0.56 mm per year sea-level rise, with the rate growing over the past two decades.

Concerns over the stability of the ice sheet have been raised for the last 40 years. Much of the WAIS sits on bedrock lying well below sea level. At the moment vast ice shelves in the Weddell and Ross seas dam the ice sheet. But if these ice shelves were to substantially melt, large areas of WAIS would be unblocked triggering an acceleration of the ice sheet toward the ocean and a rapid inland migration of the grounding line. The ice siting on inland basins would be undercut and float forming new floating ice shelves further inland, in time precipitating further breakup and collapse. Because of it's essential instability, the rate of collapse of WAIS is unknown.

According to the paper by Ian Joughin and Richard B. Alley:

"Removing the WAIS would leave broad, deep seaways that deepen towards the ice-sheet interior. This bathymetry makes the ice sheet subject to the marine-ice-sheet instability. Portions of the East Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are also marine, and the discussion here applies to those regions as well, but the issue is quantitatively more important for the WAIS, with its extensive troughs extending to depths of more than 2 km. Despite its marine setting, the present ice sheet exists because various factors promote stability, including buttressing ice shelves and regions where local bathymetric slopes oppose the general trend. Climate forcing, in particular warming that affects ice-shelf viability, could undo this potentially fragile stability. Internal instabilities also have the potential to push the WAIS past a threshold where the marine-based instability may lead to irreversible retreat."

Temperature predications for 2100 approach the thresholds of ice-shelf viability in many simulations, according to the review, but with many uncertainties regarding modelling predictions for high latitudes. "Ice-sheet simulations suggest that loss of the large ice shelves by atmospheric or oceanic forcing would probably presage collapse of the bulk of the marine ice sheet," the report authors say.

However, with CO2 emissions increasing by a record amount in 2010, temperatures by the end of the century are likely to be at the top end of IPCC predictions unless concerted action by governments to reduce emissions is taken. If little action is taken, it makes the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice sheets more likely. And once collapse is underway, they will be impossible to stop or reverse this process.

Earlier research by scientists at Penn State University in 2009 published in Nature modeled the ice sheet over the last 5 million years. "We found that the ocean's warming and melting the bottom of the floating ice shelves has been the dominant control on West Antarctic ice variations," said David Pollard, senior scientist, Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. Due to it's unstable nature the ice sheet can collapse relatively quickly. "Transitions between glacial, intermediate and collapsed states are relatively rapid, taking one to several thousand years." says the Nature article Abstract.

The research by Pollard and Robert M. DeConto, Professor of Climatology, U. Mass, found that the ice sheet collapsed and rebuilt multiple times matching the cycle of Northern Hemisphere's pattern of glaciation and glacier retreat. Pollard also noted that when atmospheric CO2 hit 400ppm, that ice sheet collapses were much more frequent. We are presently on 388 ppm of atmospheric CO2. "We are a little below 400 parts per million now and heading higher," said Pollard in a media release. "One of the next steps is to determine if human activity will make it warm enough to start the collapse."

Ian Joughin and Richard B. Alley conclude in their review that:

A collapse of the marine ice sheet in West Antarctica would raise sea level by more than three metres over the course of several centuries or less. Such an event seems possible, but improved understanding of the expected atmospheric and oceanographic forcing and the ensuing ice-sheet response is required to quantify its likelihood. Precisely understanding the vulnerability of the West Antarctic ice sheet to a warming climate remains a grand challenge for the ice-sheet and climate-modelling communities.

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is already well documented with Greenland seting a new melt record in 2010, and Greenland melting in 2011 well above average with near-record mass loss. We may be witnessing the start of the destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The collapse of these ice sheets, once started will be impossible to stop and will contribute to substantial sea level rise that will affect coastal areas of Australia and around the world. Sea levels will rise slowly, then accelerate and continue for several centuries. In the distant past sea levels have risen at a speed of up to one metre per 20 years, although we are unlikely to see that rate this century.

Watch David Pollard delivering a talk in May 2011 on "Modeling Cenozoic variations of the Antarctic Ice Sheet" (23:03) at Oregon State University

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Glaciers melting as reported by the IPCC is rubbish, the IPCC have been caught out time and time again, some people only read what they want to believe.

As Dr Madhav Khandekar concedes in that link you provided towards the end: "In summary, the glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating, but NOT any faster than other glaciers in the Arctic and elsewhere."

Please read my Climate and Himalayan Glaciers article from Jan 2010 in which I describe in detail exactly how an error on the extent of Himalayan glacier retreat crept into the IPCC 4th report on Himalayan glaciers.

and if you want to read up on what the glaciologists say from December 2009

More recent Scientific research from Canada, January 2011 confirms that most mountain glaciers are on the retreat. Many glaciers in Europe, New Zealand, Africa and the US Rocky Mountains will lose up to 75 per cent of their mass by the end of the century. The study reveals that the melt from mountain glaciers will contribute up to 12 centimetres of sea level rise by 2100.

This is not to mention the ice mass loss happening from glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula, and perhaps starting in the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS).

An underwater ridge could explain why a major glacier in the Antarctic is melting more quickly than ever before, according to a new study.
Scientists used a robot submarine to make a 3D map of the ocean under the ice shelf at the end of the Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica.
They discovered that the ice was no longer resting on a subsea ridge that had slowed the glacier's slide until the early 1970s.
The discovery means that the glacier's more rapid melting in recent years could be due to the flow of warmer sea water beneath it rather than climate change, as had previously been believed.

Read more:

Himalayan glaciers are not retreating tell the whole story not half of it.Please read

"If global warming is the only reason for rapid rate of retreat, then all glaciers should recede at the same rate. But glaciers are retreating and advancing at variable rates,

I see that you have ignored my quote from one of your sources: As Dr Madhav Khandekar concedes in that link you provided towards the end: "In summary, the glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating, but NOT any faster than other glaciers in the Arctic and elsewhere."

and also ignored the scientific study published in Nature Geoscience in January 2011 that most Mountain glaciers are retreating

And of course you say nothing on the substantive content of the article, on the accelerating ice mass loss from the Pine Island Glacier, expected acceleration of the Thwaites glacier, and the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) starting to lose ice mass. The giant rift in the Pine Island Ice Shelf is very much due to the dynamic processes involved in warm ocean water undermining the glacier and moving the grounding line further back. WAIS is inherently unstable due to much of it sitting on bedrock below sea level. And I didn't even mention in this article the substantial warming on the Antarctic Peninsula and the increase in the speed of glaciers there.

Cherrypicking data in one or two instances of glaciers advancing against the overwhelming worldwide trend does not make your case sound.

Our star, the sun, was born in the heavens about 4.5 billion years ago. Our sun is about 1/3 of the way through its expected life. Scientists are now predicting the following events during the remaining life of our star:
In the next 1.1 billion years, its brightness will increase by 10%. This will super-heat our planet as a result of a severe greenhouse effect. All of the oceans on earth will boil away and all life will be destroyed.

All life wont be destroyed in a billion years when our Sun starts to turn into a red giant.

By living on Mars, probably underground & early settlements above ground we should have another 5000 million years to play around with, also Titan & Eris as well as possibly other places in our Solar System will be long term safe havens, of cause we probably will have to eventually evacuate planet earth & plans are being put forth now.

[1] Humans will live underground in planets, moons, asteroids & meteors.
[2] Humans will live on the surface of planets, moons, asteroids & meteors.
[3] Humans will live in outerspace in spaceships & spacehabitats

Its debatable whether Mars will be destroyed when the Sun turns into a Red Giant, the consensus is earth will be destroyed but Mars not, this means we could live on Mars for a few billion years at least or maybe even more. Mars has a crust 450km deep & this will make Mars a ideal underground habitat, early settlements on Mars will be above ground. Titan, Enceladus or Europa might become tropical retreats & its possible colonies could be established there as well as on Mars. Remember its possible that we might have to evacuate Mars in 6 to 7 billion years.

Its also possible that humans could remain living on earth but deep underground, this would involve massive geothermal power industries to be established to help cool the interior of planet earth, making mining easier & creating energy & also more insulating crust, it has been suggested that half of the air & water be pumped underground to aid the geothermal power plants & the remaining half of the air & water be pumped into outerspace tankers. Our machines, industrial plants & industrial robots will get larger & larger & many space elevators will be built all along the equator to transport materials into outerspace, if we are going to be building spaceships & spacehabitats, they most likely be built in outerspace.

1998 was the year (666x3) otherwise known as the end of the fifth sun & the beginning of the sixth sun, for this is when the sun began to expand into a red giant. Their is no need to panic for we have at least 1 billion years to evacuate the planet.
Mars looks like a safe haven for many billions of years & their will probably be safe havens in other parts of our solar system as well in forign solar systems.

The effects of this sea ice melt, should not be confused with the melting of ice that lies above a land mass e.g. Greenland. The addition of melt waters from land ice, would add to the global sea level; and though the evaporation from a layer of melt water over the ice would have the same effect as evaporation from any other open water; the evaporation from the eventually exposed dry land would be close to zero by comparison.