See the Huge Crack in West Antarctica Before Iceberg Broke Off July 13, 2017 - A giant iceberg the size of Delaware has broken off the Larsen C Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Antarctic Glaciers Are Growing Unstable Above and Below Water. Melt water is fresh and therefore relatively light. The British Antarctic Survey's contribution was an epic overland journey that brought in hundreds of tonnes of fuel and cargo. The Thwaites glacier alone contains enough ice to increase global sea levels by about 50cm. Then smaller planes - an elderly Dakota and a couple of Twin Otters - ferried the people and supplies on to the field camps, hundreds of miles down the glacier towards the sea. International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, A TO Z: Climate-related words and phrases explained. Sea level rise linked to warming has already been linked with increased coastal flooding and storm surges. The canyon, found near the Denman Glacier on the west of Antarctica, stretches more than 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) below sea level – almost as deep as the average depth of the ocean. "What we are seeing here in the Antarctic is just another huge system responding in its own way.". The more they melt, the higher sea levels rise. I will be camping with the team at what is known as the grounding zone. This increased uncertainty about future sea level rise but made the worst-case scenarios more likely. There are many glaciers in the Antarctic. I was supposed to leave Antarctica at the end of December but all the delays mean the drilling only begins on 7 January. This is the first of a whole catalogue of delays and disruptions. "It'll be the most southerly jacuzzi in the world," jokes Paul Anker, a British Antarctic Survey drilling engineer. New studies show fractures on surface ice and warm seawater melting the ice from underneath. As we fly out over the front of the glacier, I realise with a shock just how fragile a fingerhold it is. Ice loss is spreading from the coast into the continent’s interior, with a reduction of more than 100 metres in thickness at some sites. Suddenly a shadow looms above, an overhanging cliff of dirt-encrusted ice. East Antarctica has the potential to reshape coastlines around the world through sea level rise, but scientists have long considered it more stable than its neighbor, West Antarctica. "The fear is these processes will just accelerate," she says. The Thwaites glacier is similar in size and shape to Idaho. No-one has ever done that on a glacier this big and dynamic. Other Antarctic glaciers were likely to be similarly unstable. Everyone sets to work with spades, hefting snow into the "flubber" - a rubber container the size of a small swimming pool. It was tough going, the top speed was just 10mph. The researchers found a precise estimate of how much ice the glacier would shed in the next 50 to 800 years was not possible due to unpredictable climate fluctuations and data limitations. As the front of the glacier melts, the weight of the vast reservoir of ice behind it pushes forward. The reason the scientists are so worried about Thwaites is because of that downward sloping submarine bed. Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests. Two ice-hardened ships docked alongside an ice cliff at the foot of the Antarctic Peninsula during the last Antarctic summer. "The deep Antarctic circumpolar water is only a handful of degrees warmer than the water above it - a degree or two above 0C - but that's warm enough to light this glacier up," says David Holland, an oceanographer with New York University and one of the lead scientists at the grounding zone camp. As the planet continues to warm, some East Antarctic glaciers will follow suit. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected. The scientists say the Pacific Ocean is warming up and that is shifting wind patterns off the coast of West Antarctica, allowing the warm deep water to well up over the continental shelf. Glacier melting in Antarctica. This one is relatively mild for Antarctica but still involves three days of wind gusting up to 50mph. Research and graphics by Alison Trowsdale, Becky Dale Lilly Huynh, Irene de la Torre. By Justin RowlattChief Environment correspondent. Scientists have discovered damage to two major Antarctic glaciers through satellite imagery, according to a new study. Elsewhere, there are cliffs of ice, some of which rise up almost a mile from the sea bed. The surface area of each one gets bigger and bigger - providing ever more ice for the water to melt. It is smaller but still huge, and is much more vulnerable to change. A massive hole has been discovered in the Antarctic ’s so-called doomsday glacier suggesting it may be melting even faster than scientists have long feared. When the sea water is cold, this process is very slow, the ice pump usually just melts a few dozen centimetres a year - easily balanced by the new ice created by falling snow. Officially called the Thwaites Glacier, this mass of ice nestled into the western edge of Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate. Icefin, the robot submarine, has managed to make five missions, taking a host of measurements in the water beneath the glacier and recording some extraordinary images. The scientists had told me that we had been camped on what is basically a small bay of ice protected by a horseshoe of raised ground. Increase the amount of energy in the system, he says, and inevitably big global processes are going to change. That is when the satellite phone call comes from the United States Antarctic Program HQ in McMurdo. The front of the glacier is almost 100 miles wide (160km) and is collapsing into the sea at up to two miles (3km) a year. "It is a feedback loop, a vicious cycle.". Evidence from other glaciers shows that if you increase the amount of warm water that is reaching the glacier the ice pump works much faster. As the members of the drilling team set up their equipment, I help out with a seismic survey of the bed beneath the glacier. Ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels are putting a lot more heat into the atmosphere and the oceans. What appears to be happening is that deep warm ocean water is flowing to the coast and down to the ice front, melting the glacier. Â© 2020 BBC. They need tonnes of specialist equipment and tens of thousands of litres of fuel, as well as tents and other camping supplies and food. Antarctica has nearly eight times more land-based ice than Greenland and 50 times more than all mountain glaciers combined. We sit in the mess tent playing cards and drinking tea and the scientists discuss why the glacier is retreating so rapidly. The latest warning over Antarctica’s melting glaciers comes amid a record heatwave on the other side of the planet in the Arctic. But drilling a 30cm hole through almost half a mile of ice at the front of the most remote glacier in the world is not easy. I camped on the ice for a month, some of the scientists will be out there for far longer, two months or more. It doesn't look like much, but this is a unique image - the first ever pictures from a frontier that is changing our world. Glaciologists have described Thwaites Glacier as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. It takes the science teams weeks just to get to their field camps. A file photo of the research vessel that charted the Thwaites Glacier in 2019. As the glacier retreats back, yet more ice is exposed. It already accounts for 4% of world sea level rise each year - a huge figure for a single glacier - and satellite data show that it is melting increasingly rapidly. It’s true that Antarctic ice is melting, but it is primarily from warming ocean water that is melting floating ice shelves that surround much of the continent, from underneath. "It can set glaciers on fire," says Prof Holland, "increasing melt rates by as much as a hundred-fold.". But sea level has a huge effect on the severity of storm surges, says Prof David Vaughan, the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey. The distances are so great they needed to set up another camp halfway down the glacier so the planes could refuel. WIRED . Ice shelves act as “dams” that help keep land-bound glaciers in place. A metre of sea level rise may not sound much, particularly when you consider that in some places the tide can rise and fall by three or four metres every day. Antarctica's colossal Thwaites Glacier is melting fast -- and scientists may have discovered why By Emma Reynolds, CNN Updated 12:19 PM ET, Wed September 9, 2020 Icefin has reached the point at which the warm ocean water meets the wall of ice at the front of the mighty Thwaites glacier - the point where this vast body of ice begins to melt. amp video_youtube Sep 14. bookmark_border. The scale is staggering and explains why Thwaites is already such an important component of world sea level rise, but I am shocked to discover there is another process that could accelerate its retreat even more. There has been lots of talk lately about Antarctica and whether or not the continent’s giant ice sheet is melting. NASA’s Earth Science News Team. But warm water transforms the process, according to the scientists. Some of it has been around for millions of years. This set of lists does not include ice sheets, ice caps or ice fields, such as the Antarctic ice sheet, but includes glacial features that are defined by their flow, rather than general bodies of ice. Sediment sweeps past the camera as Icefin, a bright yellow remotely operated robot submarine, moves tentatively forward under the ice. Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests. An aerial view of Thwaites glacier, which shows growth of gaps between the ice and bedrock. If you increase that to a metre then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade. The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. This heavy salty water is carried by a deep ocean current called the Atlantic conveyor all the way down to the south Atlantic. The surface water in Antarctica is very cold, just above -2C degrees, the freezing point of salt water. If it weren't for the ice, it would be deep ocean with a few islands. They want to drill down through almost half a mile of ice right at the point where the glacier goes afloat. Between 1979 and 2017, the glacier experienced a cumulative mass loss of 268 billion tons of ice, according to the study, which was published on Monday. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. It depends on the bedrock topography under the ice, and we don’t know it in great detail yet.”. It means the glacier gets thicker and thicker as you go inland. Read about our approach to external linking. Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is reported to be melting quicker than previously thought - scientists are now trying to find out why. share. It is a bit like cutting slices from the sharp end of a wedge of cheese. How?. Unlike the melting of ice sheets on land, sea ice melting does not raise sea levels but the loss of the reflective white ice leads to more of the sun’s heat being absorbed in the ocean, increasing the pace of heating. Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability. Additional research provided by Professor Andrew Shepherd, Leeds University. At 6 degrees Celsius of warming, “we reach a point where surface processes become dominant,” Winkelmann says. The plane flies up over the camp and directly north, out towards the ocean. Antarctic sea ice had been gradually increasing during 40 years of measurement and reached a record maximum in 2014, before falling markedly. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean, according to NASA. Gravity means ice wants to be flat. Earier this month, the ice shelf of Antarctica's Thwaites glacier was found to be melting much faster than previously thought and is now nearly a quarter thinner than it was back in 1970s. It blows huge drifts of snow into the camp, swamping the equipment, and all the work stops. I look back and see the wheel at the top of the drill turning, the black hose spooling out steadily. "The amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017," Ms Nullis added, citing images showing cracks in glaciers in Antarctica. At its deepest point, the base of the glacier is more than a mile below sea level and there is another mile of ice on top of that. It took more than a dozen flights by the US Antarctic programme's fleet of huge ski-equipped Hercules cargo planes just to get the scientists and some of their cargo to the project's main staging post in the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Doing science of this scale in such an extreme environment is not just about flying a few scientists to a remote location. In some places the great sheet of ice has broken up completely, collapsing into a jumble of massive icebergs which float in drunken chaos. Antarctic storms can be very intense. But understanding what is happening here is essential for scientists to be able to predict future sea level rise accurately. You may be surprised that so little is known about such an important glacier - I certainly was when I was invited to cover the work of the team. Dr Kiya Riverman, a glaciologist at the University of Oregon, drills down with an ice auger - a large spiral stainless-steel drill bit - and sets small explosive charges. They have confirmed that the deep circumpolar warm water is getting under the glacier and have collected huge amounts of data. And on the Antarctic Peninsula, the same wind patterns led to a lot of surface melting," he said. Yet, until this year, no-one has attempted a large-scale scientific survey on the glacier. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. The ice is about -25C (-13F) so the hole is liable to freeze over and the whole process is dependent on the vagaries of the weather. Unlike the east it doesn't rest on high ground. All the delays mean there are just a few weeks of the Antarctic summer left before the weather starts to get really bad. There is no mistaking the epic forces at work here, slowly tearing, ripping and shattering the ice. The deep warm circumpolar water travels all the way around the continent but has been increasingly encroaching on the icy edge of West Antarctica. The lists include outlet glaciers, valley glaciers, cirque glaciers, tidewater glaciers and ice streams. A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would be expected to increase global sea levels by about five metres (16ft), causing coastal cities around the world to become submerged. Heat is energy, and energy drives the weather and ocean currents. The scientists at the grounding zone camp plan to use hot water to drill their hole through the ice. Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. But recent measurements show that the melting of the glacier … It's one of Antarctica's fastest-melting glaciers, having lost an estimated 595 billion tons (540 billion metric tons) of ice since the 1980s. This is where our changing climate comes in. They are camped on the ice above the point where the glacier meets the ocean water, and have the most ambitious task of all. "When you think about it, we shouldn't be surprised by any of this," says Prof Vaughan as we are preparing to board the plane that will take us back to New Zealand and then home. At one stage, the entire season's research is on the point of being cancelled because storms stop all flights to West Antarctica from McMurdo for 17 consecutive days. It wants to "smoosh out," explains Dr Riverman. The project represents the biggest and most complex scientific field programme in Antarctic history. We are told we cannot delay our flights off the continent any longer and must leave on the supply plane that is due to arrive at the camp in an hour or so. A warming climate is taking its toll on Greenland and Antarctica glaciers, melting them from above and below the surface. And Thwaites is remote even by Antarctic standards, more than 1,000 miles (1,600km) from the nearest research station. The cause of the abrupt turnaround has not been established. The higher the ice cliff, she says, the more "smooshing" the glacier wants to do. In fact, virtually the whole bed is way below sea level. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. This Antarctic colossus is melting at a rapid rate, dumping billions of tonnes of ice in the ocean every year and pushing up global sea-levels. The ice in East Antarctica is thick - more than a mile thick on average - but it rests on high ground and only creeps sluggishly to the sea. The ice in Antarctica holds 90% of the world's fresh water, and 80% of that ice is in the eastern part of the continent. However, 500 simulations of different scenarios pointed to it losing stability. As the Gulf Stream cools between Greenland and Iceland, the water sinks. An Antarctic island that was once hidden has been uncovered after melting glaciers caused by high temperatures revealed its shore. Thwaites glacier, which is part of the west Antarctic ice sheet, has lost an estimated 540bn tonnes of ice since the 1980s. Most glaciers that flow into the sea have what is known as an "ice pump". Thwaites is not going to vanish overnight - the scientists say it will take decades, possibly more than a century. And Thwaites sits like a keystone right in the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - a vast basin of ice that contains more than 3m of additional potential sea level rise. The key is the warm seawater, which originates on the other side of the world. When an ice cube is exposed to a heat source, like warm water or air, it melts. There is enough water locked up in it to raise world sea level by more than half a metre. Western Antarctica, however, is very different. Here it becomes part of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, flowing deep - a third of a mile (530m) - below a layer of much colder water. Researchers trying to understand what's happening have drilled down through seven-hundred metres of … Icefin is under almost half a mile (600m) of ice, at the front of one the fastest-changing large glaciers in the world. It is not unusual to have hurricane force winds as well as very low temperatures. They say what is happening here is down to the complex interplay of climate, weather and ocean currents. As the glacier melts, the fresh water therefore tends to flow upwards, drawing up the heavier warmer sea water behind it. Two highly stressed and massive glaciers in Antarctica have “broken free” of some of their naturally grounded restraints, scientists say. A team of drivers in specialist snow vehicles then dragged it more than a thousand miles across the ice sheet through some of the most inhospitable terrain and weather on earth. A Nasa-funded study found instability in the Thwaites glacier meant there would probably come a point when it was impossible to stop it flowing into the sea and triggering a 50cm sea level rise.
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