Science: Antarctic Ice Melting From Warm Water Below


Antarctica's massive ice shelves are shrinking because they are being eaten away from below by warm water, a new study finds. That suggests that future sea levels could rise faster than many scientists have been predicting.

The western chunk of Antarctica is losing 23 feet of its floating ice sheet each year. Until now, scientists weren't exactly sure how it was happening and whether or how man-made global warming might be a factor. The answer, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is that climate change plays an indirect role.

As the floating ice shelves melt and thin, that in turn triggers snow and ice on land glaciers to slide down to the floating shelves and eventually into the sea, causing sea level rise, Pritchard said. Thicker floating ice shelves usually keep much of the land snow and ice from shedding to sea, but that's not happening now.

What's happening in Antarctica "may have already triggered a period of unstable glacier retreat," the study concludes. If the entire Western Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt scientists have estimated it would lift global sea levels by about 16 feet.

NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, an expert in Earth's ice systems who wasn't involved in the research, said Pritchard's study "makes an important advance" and provides key information about how Antarctica will contribute to global sea level rise.




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