New Study Reveals Increase in West Antarctic Glacial Loss

Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise, according to new research.

2014.03.31 - New Study Reveals Increase in West Antarctic Glacial Loss

The amount of ice draining collectively from those half-dozen glaciers increased by 77 percent from 1973 to 2013, scientists report this month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Pine Island Glacier, the most active of the studied glaciers, has accelerated by 75 percent in 40 years, according to the paper. Thwaites Glacier, the widest glacier, started to accelerate in 2006, following a decade of stability.

The study is the first to look at the ice coming off the six most active West Antarctic glaciers over such an extended time period. Almost 10 percent of the world’s sea-level rise per year comes from just these six glaciers. The study revealed a sustained increase in ice discharge,which has a significant impact on sea level rise.

The researchers studied the Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, all of which discharge ice into a vast bay known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica.

The amount of ice released by these six glaciers each year is comparable to the amount of ice draining from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet annually, Mouginot said. If melted completely, the glaciers’ disappearance would raise sea levels another 1.2 meters (four feet), according to co-author and UC-Irvine Professor Eric Rignot.

Of all the glaciers in the study, Pine Island Glacier accelerated the most since 1973, increasing by 1.7 kilometers (one mile), per year. That’s a 75 percent increase in speed from approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year in 1973 to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) per year in 2013.

This research was funded by a grant from the NASA’s Cryospheric Science Program and MEaSUREs program.

Sources: AGUGeophysical Research Letters

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