Home » Bumps in the ice revealed the severity and speed of Antarctica’s melting

Bumps in the ice revealed the severity and speed of Antarctica’s melting

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Bumps in the ice revealed the severity and speed of Antarctica’s melting

Satellite images reveal crucial changes in Antarctic glaciers

A team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh conducted research that revealed a deeper understanding of how and when melting began on the edges of Antarctica. Through the analysis of satellite images from the American Landsat series, the researchers observed changes in the shape of “ice bulges”, points where glaciers anchor and that are indicative of the state of the ice shelves that border the 75 percent of the Antarctic coast.

This study, published by the journal Nature, highlighted that more than a third of these anchor points have decreased in size since 2000, signaling an acceleration in the ice melting process. The importance of these findings lies in their contribution to understanding how ice losses from Antarctica will influence future global sea level rise.

Anchor points, or “fixing points,” are crucial because they act as brakes that slow the movement of ice from the continent toward the ocean. When these points lose size or disappear, the ice accelerates and the retreat in the line where the glacier still touches the seabed begins, making any future recovery of contact between the ice shelf and the anchor point difficult.

“Once an ice shelf loses contact with an attachment point, it is very difficult to regain that contact due to a dynamic response in the ice: it begins to accelerate and the baseline, where the glacier still touches the seabed, begins to go back,” Dr. Bertie Miles, who led the research, explained to the BBC.

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This study is distinguished by its unique methodology, as a type of satellite known as an altimeter was traditionally used to measure the height of the ice surface. But by using Landsat records, the researchers were able to extend the observation period into the 1970s, offering a broader historical perspective on ice shelf thinning.

“Landsat records show, for example, that some of the largest and best-known glaciers in West Antarctica, such as Pine Island and Thwaites, were already experiencing changes in the 1970s,” co-author Professor Rob Bingham told the BBC. This information is essential to understand the evolution of Antarctic melting and its implications for sea level rise.

The research has been praised by the scientific community, including Professor Helen Fricker of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, who compared ice shelves and anchor points to flying buttresses in architecture, essential for providing structural support. “By focusing on fixation points, this beautiful study has assessed the stability of Antarctica’s support and how and where it is weakening,” Fricker noted.

Warming waters, especially in the west of the continent, remain one of the main threats to the stability of ice shelves. These structures act as natural barriers that regulate the movement of ice from land to sea. The loss of these supports could significantly accelerate the flow of glaciers into the ocean, contributing to global sea level rise.

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