Huge sub-glacial basin discovered under key Antarctic ice sheet could make it more unstable
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Thursday 10 May 2012
A huge sub-glacial basin the size of Wales has been discovered under one of the key Antarctic ice sheets that could make it more unstable and liable to disintegration, a study has found.
Radar maps of the frozen Weddell Sea area of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet show that there is a deep sub-glacial basin measuring 100 km wide and 200 km long and up to 2 km deep on which the ice sheet appears to be floating.
Scientists fear that the area of the ice sheet that sticks out into the Weddell Sea, known as an ice "shelf", could melt away more quickly than previously supposed. This could cause the ice sheet itself to fall in to the sea, raising sea levels by several metres.
"We believe there's cause for concern....We believe this region is on the threshold of change," said Professor Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh, who led the project in conjuction with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge.
“This is a significant discovery in a region of Antarctica that at present we know little about. The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves,” Professor Siegert said.
The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was designed to study the underlying landscape of the ice streams that feed the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf that acts as a kind of buffer for the ice sheet. The scientists found that there was a steep reverse slope with little in the way of "pinning points" that could delay the retreat of the ice sheet.
A separate study by a team of scientists from the Alfred Wegner Institute in Germany found that the ice shelf, which is currently melting at a rate of 5 metres a year, could be melting at up to 50 metres a year by the turn of the next century.
Jurgen Determann of the institute said: "Ice shelves are like corks in the bottles for the ice streams behind them. They reduce the ice flow because they lodge in bays everywhere and rest on islands. If, however, the ice shelves melt from below they become so thin the dragging surfaces become smaller and the ice behind them starts to move."
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Power of Nepal earthquake was equivalent to 20 huge atomic bombs
Nepal earthquake video: Terrifying footage shows moment avalanche hit Everest Base Camp
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...
£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...
£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...