Ice Shelf Holding Back Antarctic Glacier Breaking Up

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The ice shelf that holds Antarctica’s massive Pine Island Glacier from collapsing into the Southern Ocean is breaking up faster than before as climate change weakens the natural barriers to glacial melting, a new study finds. The research raises alarms over the potential for further accelerated sea level rise. The Pine Island Glacier holds about 160 trillion tons of ice — enough to raise global sea levels by more than 19 inches. Scientists’ analysis of satellite images, published Friday in Science Advances, revealed the glacier’s speed as it flows to the ocean increased 12% over just three years from late 2017 to 2020. Over that time, the glacier’s ice shelf lost one-fifth of its area, thereby reducing its ability to act as a proverbial cork holding the glacier in its on-land ‘bottle.’

The findings dramatically move forward the time window in which a wholesale collapse of the ice shelf is possible and increase concerns over the nearby Thwaites Glacier. “I’m not really a catastrophist,” Claciologist and report co-author Ian Joughin told the Washington Post. “But the integrity of the ice shelf is definitely in question.”


Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup. Image courtesy of Science Advances  11 Jun 2021: Vol. 7, no. 24, eabg3080 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg3080

Sources: APWashington Post $, AxiosInsideClimate NewsBusiness Insider, Science Advances

Originally published by Nexus Media (images added by editor).

Featured image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory. Image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.


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