A recent study has proven that the ice from Antarctica is actually given shape by the warm current of water that runs underneath it. The information is vital in the current context of the north’s meltdown and the rising levels of the oceans that threaten to cover important areas inhabited by humans.
It all started two years ago with two scientists who discovered that the glaciers located in the western part of Antarctica were melting and also retreating from below. If they were to disappear completely, the level of the seas would rise with about ten feet (three meters). The warm currents of the ocean were to blame for the phenomenon.
In this light of events, scientists have been researching the frozen continent in order to find as much information as possible, but also the outcomes of the current climate change. Their latest results were published in the Nature Geoscience journal last Monday.
The great glaciers are held in place by ice shelves, protrusions that usually float on the surface of the water and attach where they are needed in order to provide balance. If the ice shelves are weakened, the ice they keep in place will start quickly flowing into the ocean.
The research led by Karen Alley from University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder has pointed out the existence of warm waters that not only shape the ice but also weaken the ice shelves. In more details, it appears that deep channels have been carved into the bases of the shelves, channels that were formed by the warm water. These currents hit the grounding line, and then the water bursts upwards and cuts into the shelf from below, helped by the meltwater.
According to Alley,
“They’re kind of like upside down rivers, or streams. Instead of the water flowing downhill, it’s flowing uphill, because it’s buoyant.”
This process is sure to quicken the rising levels of the oceans. The researchers are quite worried because the phenomenon has not only been observed in western Antarctica but also in the ice that protects the massive Totten Glacier of East Antarctica. They will continue their studies to learn the continent’s vulnerabilities.
As Alley has stated, the channels are extremely valuable because of their roles in the stability of the ice shelves and the warm waters. However, there is still a lot of work to be done until we will understand their importance in the future.
Image Source: Art Brewer Photography
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