Please select your home edition
Edition
RS Sailing 728x90

Ice-sheet retreat can halt due to long phases of climate warming

by British Antarctic Survey on 20 Oct 2012
Edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf, Weddell Sea Pete Bucktrout
Ice-sheet retreat can halt temporarily during long phases of climate warming, according to scientists. A UK team led by Durham University has found that the geometry of channels underneath the ice can be a strong control on ice behaviour, temporarily masking the signals of retreat.

The findings, which provide the first simulation of past ice-sheet retreat and collapse over a ten thousand year period in Antarctica, shed new light on what makes ice stable or unstable and will help refine predictions of future ice extent and global sea-level rise, the researchers say.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that one of the main challenges in predicting future sea-level rise is to quantify and model the interactions between evolving ice sheets, oceans, sea level and climate. Significant efforts have been made over the last decade to develop computer models and collect data in order to reduce uncertainties and understand the potential impacts under scenarios of future climate change.

The results of the new research from Durham University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Cambridge, and British Antarctic Survey are published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Lead author, Dr. Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at the Department of Geography, Durham University, said: 'Our research shows that the physical shape of the channels is a more important factor in controlling ice stability than was previously realised. Channel width can have a major effect on ice flow, and determines how fast retreat, and therefore sea-level rise, can happen.'

Although climatic and oceanic changes are crucial drivers of ice loss, the research shows that the landscape below the ice strongly controls the speed of any retreat.

Dr. Jamieson added: 'Our results suggest that during an overall phase of retreat an ice stream can appear almost stable when in fact, in the longer-term, the opposite may be the case.

'Getting a clearer picture of the landscape beneath the ice is crucial if future predictions of change in the ice-sheets and sea level are to be improved.'

Marine-based ice streams are the fast flowing arteries of ice sheets, draining approximately 90 per cent of the ice that reaches the sea. They flow through large channels where the ice can move thousands of metres in a year. According to the scientists, the unpredictable nature of ice streams makes forecasting ice-sheet retreat extremely difficult. If ice streams speed up they can cause sea level to rise.


Durham University co-author Dr. Chris Stokes said: 'Ice streams are like taps filling a bath, but the problem here is that we do not know if something is suddenly going to turn them up or even turn them off.'

Satellite imagery from the last 20 years has led to advances in our knowledge of ice sheet stability and has shown that many ice streams are getting thinner and retreating because the ocean and climate are warming. The new research shows that ice behaviour can successfully be simulated in places where ice streams meet the sea.

The researchers looked at the landscape of the seafloor in Marguerite Bay, in the Antarctic Peninsula, and saw that during a rapid phase of recession 13,000 years ago, retreat paused many times. Using a computer model designed to work in situations of rapid change, they found they could reproduce the same pattern in a series of simulations. These showed that ice dragged on the sides of the channel more where it was narrow, causing retreat to slow and in places temporarily stop for decades to centuries before retreat continued.

Many ice streams are found in channels with beds that are below sea level and that deepen inland. Current theory suggests that ice loss can increase rapidly in deeper water, but the new findings show that channel width plays a crucial role and that narrow bottlenecks in the landscape beneath the ice can cause retreat to slow down.

Dr. Andreas Vieli, Department of Geography, Durham University, said: 'We can see from our simulations and from new maps of the ocean floor that these bottlenecks occur in the same place as pauses or slowdowns in past ice retreat. This means we should look more closely at the shape of the bed underneath Greenland and Antarctica to better understand how ice might retreat in the future.'

Dr. Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand from British Antarctic Survey added: 'Knowledge of the factors influencing stability and retreat of ice streams is of particular concern because significant portions of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are currently losing mass that contributes significantly to sea-level rise. Our model results help to explain the apparently time-transgressive retreat of ice streams around Antarctica following the last ice age.'

The researchers say that understanding ice-stream behaviour and the rate of mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers is British Antarctic Survey website

Zhik AkzoNobelb 660x82PredictWind.com 2014Ancasta Ker 40+ 660x82

Related Articles

A Few Rays - What is Broad Spectrum Protection?
What is Broad Spectrum sunscreen? Ultraviolet rays only make up a small proportion of all of the sun’s rays. What is Broad Spectrum sunscreen? Ultraviolet rays (UVA, UVB and UVC) only make up a small proportion of all of the sun’s rays. UVA and UVB sun-rays are however the biggest contributors to skin damage from sun.
Posted on 19 Apr
Frigid flying – Coast Guard aircrews take on New England Winter
Freezing rain? Teeth-chattering temperatures? Limited visibility? Coast Guard aircrews are still ready to fly. Freezing rain? Teeth-chattering temperatures? Limited visibility? Coast Guard aircrews are still ready to fly. At Air Station Cape Cod, aviation maintenance and electronic technicians work around the clock to ensure the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters are prepared and ready to launch. There is one thing the maintenance crews and pilots cannot control: winter weather.
Posted on 9 Feb
When whales meet sails
CAMPER helmsman Roberto ‘Chuny’ Bermudez found himself nearly face to face with whale in middle of North Atlantic Ocean. Currently the database for marine mammal strikes is very sparse. We are requesting sailors and boaters help to submit information on current and past incidents, however long ago that may be. By giving a location, date, identification if possible, and any other relevant information you can help scientists better understand where marine mammals are at risk for strikes
Posted on 8 Jan
Vendée Globe – Uncertainty about weather condition in North Atlantic
Alex Thomson and Armel le Cléac'h are probably looking closely at the wind models for the North Atlantic. Alex Thomson and Armel le Cléac'h are probably looking closely at the wind models for the North Atlantic. It does not seem to be easy.
Posted on 4 Jan
10,000 metric tons of plastic enter Great Lakes every year
A new study inventories and tracks high concentrations of plastic in Great Lakes could help inform cleanup efforts A new study by Rochester Institute of Technology that inventories and tracks high concentrations of plastic in the Great Lakes could help inform cleanup efforts and target pollution prevention.Researchers found that nearly 10,000 metric tons—or 22 million pounds—of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year from the United States and Canada.
Posted on 2 Jan
The Deepwater Horizon aftermath
Researchers analyze 125 compounds from oil spilled in Gulf of Mexico to determine their longevity at different levels. Researchers analyze 125 compounds from oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico to determine their longevity at different contamination levels. The oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) rig in 2010 contaminated more than 1,000 square miles of seafloor.
Posted on 1 Jan
What happened to Deepwater Horizon Oil?
What happened to the 160 million gallons of oil that gushed for 87 days into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? Six years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we are continually asked two questions. What happened to the 160 million gallons of oil that gushed for 87 days into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? Was discharging 1.67 million gallons of chemicals into the ocean to disperse the oil a good or bad idea?
Posted on 24 Dec 2016
Vendée Globe – Light winds for Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss
The first one to get out of it will have a nice north-westerly flow on the edge of the high pressure system. Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss are sailing in a complex weather system in a light wind zone. The first one to get out of it will have a nice north-westerly flow on the edge of the high pressure system.
Posted on 15 Dec 2016
Great Barrier Reef managers and industry prepare for summer
Marine park managers, scientists and experts recently met for the annual pre-summer workshop Marine park managers, scientists and experts recently met for the annual pre-summer workshop to assess climate-related risks to the Great Barrier Reef over the coming months. Current predictions by the Bureau of Meteorology and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are for a summer of average sea temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef.
Posted on 7 Dec 2016
Fourth Blog from on board Perie Banou II
Oh no - not the coffee cup Oh no - not the coffee cup - Jon keeps us all entertained as he approaches Reunion Island. The B&G chartplotter tells me since leaving the pleasant mid Western Australian town of Carnarvon (by world standards, an isolated town), that I have sailed some 2559 NM and have 751nm to go to Le Port Reunion Island. French. Reunion is a Suburb (department) of Paris. Population 844,000.
Posted on 23 Nov 2016