Antarctic Ice Losses

As everyone knows, Antarctica is covered with ice. A lot of ice. Ice that is many kilometers deep. Enough ice that, should it all melt, oceans would rise tens of meters. With the retreat of sea ice in the Arctic and glaciers in many places in the Northern hemisphere, a lot of attention is focused on Antarctic ice.

This spring (which is fall in the south), there has been evidence of yet another dramatic calving, as a crack on the Larsen C ice shelf suddenly grew. (I note that Larsen A and B have already broken off in the last decade.)

This activity was observed by ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellites. Observation from space is pretty much the only way to know what is going on in the winter down there.

The current location of the rift on Larsen C, as of May 1 2017. Labels highlight significant jumps. Tip positions are derived from Landsat (USGS) and Sentinel-1 InSAR (ESA) data. Background image blends BEDMAP2 Elevation (BAS) with MODIS MOA2009 Image mosaic (NSIDC). Other data from SCAR ADD and OSM.

This accelerated change comes after the “warm search” of Antarctic summer, and may signal a break up this year. If so, the ice shelf will be 10% smaller, and the smallest ever observed. This is certainly a big event.

Separation of this ice will probably not affect sea level (the ice is floating on the water). But there is growing evidence that the ice is melting at an accelerated pace at that location, and may well be accompanied by melting of near by ice on land. The latter will contribute to sea level rise.

I used to not expect to see the ice caps melt or the great Athropogenic sea rise (AKA, The Great Glub!). But, who knows? The pace of melting is faster and seems to be accelerating, so I might live long enough to see it.

  1. O’Leary, Martin, Adrian Luckman, and Project MIDAS, A new branch of the rift on Larsen C in Project MIDAS Blog. 2017.


Space Saturday

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