UK scientists working in Antarctica have found some of the clearest evidence yet of instabilities in the ice of part of West Antarctica. If the trend continues, they say, it could lead to a significant rise in global sea level.
The new evidence comes from a group of glaciers covering an area the size of Texas, in a remote and seldom visited part of West Antarctica.
David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, explained: “It has been called the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the reason for that is that this is the area where the bed beneath the ice sheet dips down steepest towards the interior. If there is a feedback mechanism to make the ice sheet unstable, it will be most unstable in this region.”
“The measurements from last season seem to show an incredible acceleration, a rate of up to 7%. That is far greater than the accelerations they were getting excited about in the 1990s.” If the glacier does continue to surge and discharge most of it ice into the sea, say the researchers, the Pine Island Glacier alone could raise global sea level by 25cm.
That might take decades or a century, but neighbouring glaciers are accelerating too and if the entire region were to lose its ice, the sea would rise by 1.5m worldwide.