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Ice Shelves of Antarctica Under Threat



  Apr 18, 2024

Ice Shelves of Antarctica Under Threat



1. What are ice shelves?

Ice shelves are massive, floating extensions of continental ice sheets that extend into and over the ocean. They are anchored to the land but spread out over the water, forming a barrier that slows the flow of glaciers into the sea.

2. What does the new study reveal about Antarctic ice shelves?

The study highlights that the interplay between meandering ocean currents and the ocean floor plays a crucial role in transporting warm water to the base of ice shelves, particularly in the Amundsen Sea of West Antarctica. This process significantly contributes to the rapid melting of ice shelves.

3. How do ocean currents affect ice shelf stability?

Ocean currents affect ice shelf stability by changing water temperatures at different depths. When these currents meander and interact with the ocean floor, they can cause upwelling, which brings warm deep water to the surface. This warm water then flows under the ice shelves, melting them from below.

4. What is the significance of the modified Circumpolar Deep Water in this context?

The modified Circumpolar Deep Water is a layer of warm water that lies beneath colder surface waters around Antarctica. It plays a critical role in melting ice shelves as it is often funneled beneath them, increasing the rate of basal melting.

5. What were the prior assumptions about ice shelf melting, and how does this study challenge them?

Previously, it was believed that the melting of Antarctic ice shelves was primarily driven by winds over the Southern Ocean that pushed warm water towards them. This study challenges that view by showing that the structural features of ocean currents and the seabed also have a significant impact, highlighting the need to consider these factors in climate models.

6. What are the implications of ice shelf loss for global sea levels?

Ice shelf loss has direct implications for global sea levels because it removes a barrier that prevents glaciers from flowing freely into the ocean. As these glaciers accelerate into the sea, they contribute to sea level rise, posing a threat to coastal communities worldwide.

7. How might this new understanding affect future climate change projections?

This new understanding indicates that climate models need to integrate the dynamics of ocean currents and their interactions with the seabed to accurately predict the rate of Antarctic ice loss. This could lead to revisions in the projections of sea-level rise, emphasizing the importance of oceanic processes in climate change.

Here are some of the notable Antarctic ice shelves, including Thwaites, which have been the focus of extensive research due to their rapid changes and significant impact on sea level rise:

Thwaites Ice Shelf - Often referred to as the "Doomsday Glacier," Thwaites is one of the most closely monitored and significant ice shelves due to its potential to drastically raise global sea levels if it were to melt completely.

Pine Island Ice Shelf - Adjacent to the Thwaites, the Pine Island Ice Shelf is also rapidly thinning and retreating. Both ice shelves are situated in the Amundsen Sea and are critical to understanding Antarctic ice loss.

Ross Ice Shelf - The largest ice shelf of Antarctica, covering an area roughly the size of France. It plays a crucial role in balancing the ice flow from the continent into the ocean.

Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf - This is actually a combination of two ice shelves, the Ronne and the Filchner, which merge to form one of the largest ice bodies in Antarctica, located in the Weddell Sea.

Larsen Ice Shelf - This ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula has seen significant disintegration in recent years. Its segments, notably Larsen A and B, have collapsed, and Larsen C has also shown signs of instability.

Amery Ice Shelf - Located in East Antarctica, this is one of the largest remaining intact ice shelves. It has been the subject of many studies regarding its stability and the dynamics of ice flow in its region.

Getz Ice Shelf - This ice shelf in West Antarctica is one of the lesser-known but still significantly large ice shelves that have been losing mass, contributing to sea level rise.

These ice shelves are critical to understanding the overall stability of the Antarctic ice sheet and its potential contributions to global sea level rise due to climate change. Each shelf's response to environmental changes provides valuable data for predicting future sea level scenarios.


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