Antarctic ice sheet melting from below, scientists say
The Pine Island Glacier, one of the most rapidly melting ice masses in the world, is being rapidly eaten away by warm currents of water below.
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Last November, a study published in the journal Science estimated that ice lost from the entire Antarctic ice sheet andGreenland ice sheet is responsible for a fifth of the 2.2 inches (5.59 cm) of sea-level rise observed since 1992.Skip to next paragraph
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As the Pine Island Glacier makes its seaward retreat, it also develops and drops icebergs as part of a natural cycle. In early July, a huge iceberg, measuring about 278 square miles (720 square kilometers), broke off from the Pine Island Glacier and floated freely into the Amundsen Sea.
To see how much the Pine Island Glacier was melting, Holland and his colleagues installed sensors inside holes drilled 1,640 feet (500 m) through the solid ice, at various points across the glacier. The instruments measured ocean temperatures, salinity (or salt content), and the movement of warm-water currents that carve channels through the ice shelf and flow underneath it.
The data, published online today (Sept. 12) in the journal Science, will help scientists piece together how the Pine Island Glacier is changing, and will help them build more accurate models of glacier melt.
"What we have brought to the table are detailed measurements of the melt rates that will allow simple physical models of the melting processes to be plugged into computer models of the coupled ocean/glacier system," Tim Stanton, a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said in a statement. "These improved models are critical to our ability to predict future changes in the ice shelf, and glacier-melt rates of the potentially unstable Western Antarctic Ice Sheet in response to changing ocean forces."
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