In Antarctica, proof that action on climate change is more urgent than ever

A A A

Fears that global sea levels this century may rise faster and further than expected are supported by a study showing that 300 glaciers in Antarctica have begun to move more quickly into the ocean.

Scientists believe that the accelerated movement of glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula indicates a dramatic shift in the way melting ice around the world contributes to overall increases in global sea levels.

Instead of simply adding huge volumes of meltwater to the sea, scientists have found rising temperatures are causing glaciers as far apart as Alaska, Greenland and now Antarctica to break up and slip into the ocean at a faster rate than expected.

The findings will raise concerns within the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which, earlier this year, downplayed the so-called "dynamic" nature of melting glaciers - when rising temperatures cause them to break up quickly rather than simply melt slowly.

Using radar images taken between 1993 and 2003, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge mapped a 12 per cent increase in the average rate of movement of more than 300 glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula over the period.

The scientists believe that their findings are among the first to suggest that as glaciers being to melt they experience a physical transformation that causes an acceleration in their movement into the sea.

"We're only just now getting to grips with just how big these dynamic processes may be. There are still a lot of surprises out there," said David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey and a co-author of the study.

"It is yet another example of how subpolar glaciers are responding very quickly to climate change because they are close to the temperature transition from ice to water," Dr Vaughan said.

"Scientists want to know why these things are happening because that's the route to the prediction of future sea levels."

In its fourth report published in February, the IPCC said sea levels this century could rise by between 20 cms and 43cms but it accepted that this could be a serious underestimate if ice sheets and glaciers undergo the sort of dynamic changes that existing computer models do not take fully into account.

Hamish Pritchard, a co-author of the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, said the findings demonstrated how melting glaciers can change in a way that speeds up their eventual disappearance into the sea.

The study showed that rising temperatures cause glaciers to become thinner, which makes them more buoyant when resting on submerged bedrock, so allowing them to slip faster into the ocean, Dr Pritchard said.

"The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced some of the fastest warming on Earth, nearly 3C over the past half-century. Eighty-seven per cent of its glaciers have been retreating during that period and now we see these glaciers are also speeding up," Dr Pritchard said.

"They are speeding up in a steady, progressive way. Warming causes widespread thinning, which causes widespread acceleration due to an increase in buoyancy. They speed up and the fronts of the glaciers break off and float away."

Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, said: "Without doubt we are seeing a striking global picture of ice on the retreat."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz