Pine Island Glacier is more vulnerable than previously thought and could cause a sea level rise of 1.6 feet

The Pine Island Ice Shelf in Antarctica is more vulnerable than previously thought and could cause a global sea level rise of 1.6 Feet if it were to collapse, study warns

  • The Pine Island Ice Shelf holds enough ice to raise sea level by 1.6 feet
  • It may be more vulnerable to complete disintegration than previously thought
  • In a hot climate, birthing events are likely to become more frequent
  • Experts hope the study further signals the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Measuring roughly the same size as England, Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest and fastest-changing glaciers in the world.

The glacier is responsible for about 25% of the ice loss from Antarctica, equivalent to the amount of water in 13,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

But a new study has warned that the Pine Island Ice Shelf, the ice shelf that controls the flow of ice from the Pine Island Glacier, may be more vulnerable to complete disintegration than previously thought.

Worryingly, experts from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) say its collapse could cause global sea levels to rise by as much as 0.5 meters.

A new study has warned that the Pine Island Ice Shelf, the ice shelf that controls the flow of ice from the Pine Island Glacier, may be more vulnerable to complete disintegration than previously thought.

Isle of Pines Glacier

The Pine Island Ice Shelf controls the flow of ice from the Pine Island Glacier – roughly the size of England – into the Amundsen Sea.

This is a crucial role as the glacier is one of the largest and rapidly changing glaciers in the world.

It is also responsible for about 25% of the ice loss from Antarctica.

This equates to the amount of water in 13,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Previous studies have shown that the Pine Island Ice Shelf is becoming increasingly fragile due to two key processes.

First, the ice shelf is experiencing greater thinning due to the increase in the amount of ice melting into the sea.

Meanwhile, birthing events have also increased in recent years, during which masses of ice break into icebergs.

Now, in a new study, BAS researchers have shown that the combination of childbirth and dissolution will likely make it disintegrate faster than previously thought.

“This study highlights the extreme sensitivity of ice shelves to climate change,” said Dr. Alex Bradley, ocean modeler at BAS and lead author of the study.

“It shows that the interplay between birth and melting can help disintegrate the Pine Island ice shelf, which we already thought was vulnerable to collapse.”

To reach this conclusion, the team used advanced ocean modeling techniques to simulate the effects of continuous birthing events.

The graph shows how the Pine Island Glacier's ice front retreated from 2009 to 2020

The graph shows how the Pine Island Glacier’s ice front retreated from 2009 to 2020

Previous studies have shown that the Pine Island Ice Shelf is becoming increasingly fragile due to two key processes

Previous studies have shown that the Pine Island Ice Shelf is becoming increasingly fragile due to two key processes

Their simulations showed that calving events could result in further thinning of the ice shelf, which in turn will make the ice shelf more vulnerable to calving.

This suggests that there may be a feedback loop between the two processes and accelerate the total collapse of the ice shelf.

This would reduce the ice shelf’s ability to stem the flow of ice from the Pine Island glacier to the sea and increase its contribution to global sea level rise.

“The complete disintegration of the Pine Island Ice Shelf will have profound consequences not only for the Pine Island Glacier, but for all of West Antarctica as it is believed to play a vital role in maintaining the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.” explained Dr. Bradley.

In a hot climate, birthing events are likely to become more frequent, experts warn.

They hope the new study will further signal the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Pine Island Glacier isn’t the only one at risk of collapse: Earlier this month, a study warned that Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is also “holding on to the nails.”

BAS researchers found that the glacier – widely known as the doomsday glacier – has retreated twice as fast as previously thought in the past 200 years.

For the first time, scientists have mapped a critical area of ​​the seafloor in front of Thwaites at high resolution, which gives them a window into how quickly the glacier has retreated and moved in the past.

The stunning images show geological features new to science and also provide a kind of crystal ball to see into Thwaites’ future.

Alarmingly, analysis of the new images indicates that Thwaites’ retreat rate that scientists most recently documented is small compared to the fastest rates of change in its past.

GLACIERS AND ICE CLIFFS WOULD HAVE A ‘DRAMATIC IMPACT’ ON GLOBAL SEA LEVELS

Global sea level could rise by up to 3 meters if Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica collapses.

Rising sea levels threaten cities from Shanghai to London, low-lying areas in Florida or Bangladesh, and entire nations such as the Maldives.

In the UK, for example, a rise of 6.7 feet (2 meters) or more can cause areas such as Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of East London and the Thames Estuary to be submerged.

The collapse of the glacier, which could begin in decades, could also engulf large cities like New York and Sydney.

Parts of New Orleans, Houston and Miami in the southern United States would also be particularly affected.

A 2014 study reviewed by the Union of Concerned Scientists looked at 52 sea level indicators in U.S. communities.

It found that tidal floods will increase dramatically in many locations on the east coast and the Gulf, based on a conservative estimate of projected sea level rises based on current data.

The results showed that most of these communities will experience a sharp increase in the number and severity of tidal flood events in the coming decades.

By 2030, more than half of the 52 communities studied are expected to experience, on average, at least 24 tidal floods per year in exposed areas, assuming moderate projections of sea level rise. Twenty of these communities could see a tripling or more of tidal flood events.

The Mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the largest increases in flood frequency. Places like Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, DC can expect more than 150 tidal floods a year, and several New Jersey locations could see 80 tidal floods or more.

In the UK, a two-meter (6.5 ft) rise by 2040 would see much of Kent almost completely submerged, according to findings from a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in November 2016.

South coast areas such as Portsmouth, Cambridge and Peterborough would also be heavily affected.

The towns and villages around the Humber estuary, such as Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, would also experience intense flooding.

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