The effects of climate change are not a thing of the future. They are happening now. THE ice shelf of the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica is gradually crumbling and accelerating the glacier's collapse at sea.
This floating platform helps contain the glacier's ground mass, one of the fastest moving on the frozen continent. The dramatic process of size reduction was analyzed through satellite images taken between the years 2017 and 2020. Large icebergs on the rim broke, accelerating the glacier.
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The article with the study by researchers from the University of Washington and the British Antarctic Survey was published in scientific magazine Science Advances, this Wednesday (9). The weakening of the edge shortens the timetable for Pine Island's collapse at sea.
“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things can actually go a lot faster than expected. The processes we were studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a very moderate pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lost the rest of the ice shelf,” said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW's Laboratory of Applied Physics and lead author of the study.
Pine Island has approximately 180 trillion tons of ice. This is the equivalent of half a meter of global elevation of the sea level. Currently, each year, the glacier is already the main responsible for this increase in Antarctica, with a sixth of a millimeter each year. The rate will grow.
If that glacier and its neighbor Thwaites accelerate and head straight for the ocean, the seas could rise many meters in the next few years. Both glaciers they are thinning because of warmer ocean currents, which melt the ice underneath.
Between 1990 and 2009, the Pine Island glacier had accelerated seaward movement from 2,5 kilometers per year to 4 kilometers per year, stabilizing for nearly a decade. From 2017 to 2020, the platform lost 20% of its area. This growth is not about the oceans. It's still unclear whether it will continue to break.
“The ice shelf appears to be fragmenting due to the acceleration of the glacier over the past two decades. The recent changes in speed are not due to thinning caused by the melt; rather, they are due to the loss of the outside of the ice shelf. The glacier's acceleration is not catastrophic at this point. But if the rest of the ice shelf breaks off and leaves, the glacier could accelerate a lot,” added Joughin.
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