Warming oceans threaten Antarctic glaciers

March 15, 2007

Scientists have identified four Antarctic glaciers that pose a threat to future sea levels using satellite observations, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Experts from the University of Edinburgh and University College London determined the effect that Antarctica and Greenland were having on global sea level in a comprehensive evaluation of the Earth’s ice sheets. They found that together these two ice-sheets were responsible for a sea level rise of 0.35 millimetres per year over the past decade – representing about 12 per cent of the current global trend.

However, despite recent attention that has focused on the importance of the Greenland ice sheet, the research shows that its glaciers are changing too erratically to establish a trend with confidence. In contrast, four major glaciers in East and West Antarctica were shown to be retreating in unison, raising concerns that global sea level could rapidly rise if the oceans continue to warm.

Dr. Andrew Shepherd, at the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: "Our assessment confirms that just one type of glacier in Antarctica is retreating today – those that are seated in deep submarine basins and flow directly into the oceans. These glaciers are vulnerable to small changes in ocean temperature, such as those that have occurred over the 20th century, and those predicted for the 21st century. A rise of less than 0.5 ºC could have triggered the present imbalance."

Professor Duncan Wingham, at University College London, insists that the success of the research lies in the satellite instrumentation from which it is derived: "The extreme precision with which we can now make measurements of the Earth’s surface allows us to see the increasingly subtle changes within the ice sheets that will govern their future sea level contribution."

Source: University of Edinburgh

Explore further: Volcanic eruption masked acceleration in sea level rise

Related Stories

Opposing mountain ranges

August 1, 2016

In the future, people in the Himalayas will have to contend with flooding, while those in the Andes will have longer dry spells and less water. These are the conclusions drawn by ETH researchers, who have used measurement ...

Wind-blown Antarctic sea ice helps drive ocean circulation

June 27, 2016

Antarctic sea ice is constantly on the move as powerful winds blow it away from the coast and out toward the open ocean. A new study shows how that ice migration may be more important for the global ocean circulation than ...

Recommended for you

The Anthropocene is here: scientists

August 29, 2016

The human impact on Earth's chemistry and climate has cut short the 11,700-year-old geological epoch known as the Holocene and ushered in a new one, scientists said Monday.

Researchers unravel process for the formation of rainstorms

August 29, 2016

Violent thunderstorms can often cause torrential rain, which pose a threat for both humans and the infrastructure. Until now such extreme weather phenomena have been very poorly understood. However, using advanced simulations ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.