New study shows major increase in West Antarctic glacial loss

Mar 26, 2014
An iceberg breaks off Pine Island Glacier’s calving front into the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Results from a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters reveal that this glacier in West Antarctica is discharging 69 percent more ice into the ocean than it was 40 years ago. Credit: NASA/Maria-José Viñas

Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise, according to new research.

The amount of draining collectively from those half-dozen glaciers increased by 77 percent from 1973 to 2013, scientists report this month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Pine Island Glacier, the most active of the studied glaciers, has accelerated by 75 percent in 40 years, according to the paper. Thwaites Glacier, the widest glacier, started to accelerate in 2006, following a decade of stability.

The study is the first to look at the ice coming off the six most active West Antarctic glaciers over such an extended time period, said Jeremie Mouginot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine (UC-Irvine) who co-authored the paper. Almost 10 percent of the world's sea-level rise per year comes from just these six glaciers, he said.

"What we found was a sustained increase in ice discharge—which has a significant impact on sea level rise," he said.

The researchers studied the Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, all of which discharge ice into a vast bay known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica.

The amount of ice released by these six glaciers each year is comparable to the amount of ice draining from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet annually, Mouginot said. If melted completely, the glaciers' disappearance would raise sea levels another 1.2 meters (four feet), according to co-author and UC-Irvine Professor Eric Rignot.

A satellite image of Pine Island Glacier shows an 18-mile-long crack across the glacier. Researchers used cracks and other physical features on the glaciers to calculate glacier acceleration by comparing image data from year to year to see how far the cracks traveled. Credit: NASA

The decades of increasing speeds and ice loss are "a strong indication of a major, long-term leakage of ice into the ocean from that sector of Antarctica," noted Rignot.

"This region is considered the potential leak point for Antarctica because of the low seabed. The only thing holding it in is the ice shelf," said Robert Thomas, a glaciologist at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Va., who was not involved in the study. Ice shelves are platforms of permanent floating ice that form where glaciers meet the sea. In West Antarctica, ice shelves prevent the glaciers investigated in the study from slipping more rapidly into the ocean.

Mouginot and his colleagues used satellite data to look at sequential images of the glaciers from 1973 to 2013. The scientists then calculated how fast the ice was moving by tracking surface features, such as cracks in the ice, to determine the distance the glaciers traveled from month to month and year to year.

While the study considered the six glaciers collectively, it also revealed unprecedented change on the individual glacier level. Thwaites Glacier, the largest of the six with a width of 120 kilometers (75 miles), experienced a decade of near-stability until 2006, when its speed picked up by 0.8 kilometers (half a mile) per year – a 33 percent increase in speed, according to the study. This is the first time that such changes on Thwaites Glacier have been observed, said Mouginot.

Of all the glaciers in the study, Pine Island Glacier accelerated the most since 1973, increasing by 1.7 kilometers (one mile), per year. That's a 75 percent increase in speed from approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year in 1973 to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) per year in 2013.

Both Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers contribute the most to overall ice discharge—about three-fourths of the total amount documented in the study. However, scientists also documented even higher rates of increased discharge in some of the smaller glaciers. Smith and Pope Glaciers nearly tripled the amount of ice they drained into the ocean since 1973.

The research team also found that the Pine Island Glacier is accelerating along its entire drainage system—up to 230 kilometers (155 miles) inland from where it meets the ocean.

"This paper is important in showing that a glacier can actually 'feel' what is happening far downstream of itself," said Thomas. "It means that if you disturb the ice sheet near the coast, the will feel the push and rapidly respond hundreds of kilometers inland."

This finding suggests that glacier acceleration models may need to be reevaluated, Thomas added. Most current models only take into account isolated speed changes resulting from a local disturbance, rather than representing how these changes affect the glacier as a whole.

Explore further: NASA data shed new light on changing Greenland ice

More information: "Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013" onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10… 013GL059069/abstract

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savroD
4.1 / 5 (17) Mar 26, 2014
But don't worry that scientists are colluding to foist actual science on a bunch of luddites and/or paid bloggers. Then again there is billions to be made in scientific fraud and the poor fossil fuels industry is so very poor. Those poor Koch brothers are having a hard time paying their bloggers and obfuscators to blanket the Internet and world with their non-scientific nonsense.
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (21) Mar 26, 2014
More plausible is that climate field happens to be the magnet attracting lazy and incompetent who are just unable to handle challenges of real science. Witness the "shrinking salamander" story: you can't make this stuff up!
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (19) Mar 26, 2014
More plausible is that climate field happens to be the magnet attracting lazy and incompetent who are just unable to handle challenges of real science. Witness the "shrinking salamander" story: you can't make this stuff up!
Of course, of more interest is the lazy, anti-scientific musings of such as this. The denialism industry is rife with such poorly masked, hostile conspiracists like this one. See here for eg: http://www.desmog...campaign Of course, the oceans keeps rising (http://www.scient...0140326) there is ever more consensus (http://www.salon....pening/) the world keeps warming (http://www.thegua...warming) and the deniers keep denying.
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (21) Mar 26, 2014
Let's get to the substance, shall we? The whole article premise is that Antarctic temperatures have been increased, but we have pretty reliable satellite observations of sea ice cover, which is pretty accurate proxy for temperature. So, unless you fix -- pardon, adjust -- these data, the whole story about accelerated glacier melt in West antarctic is not entirely convincing.
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (19) Mar 26, 2014
Let's get to the substance, shall we?
Well we can try, but I doubt you're up to it.
The whole article premise is that Antarctic temperatures have been increased,
Where does it say that?
but we have pretty reliable satellite observations of sea ice cover, which is pretty accurate proxy for temperature.
No, this is a zombie argument, it has been pointed out to you already that sea ice cover in the southern hemisphere is an indication of ocean salinity
So, unless you fix -- pardon, adjust -- these data, the whole story about accelerated glacier melt in West antarctic is not entirely convincing.
The use of satellite measurements is adjusted - pardon "fixed" - how, exactly?

Same old, zombie arguments and innuendoes of conspiracy.
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (20) Mar 26, 2014
You think you have won the salinity debate? Let me repost the arguments which were not challenged:

The salinity map
http://www.scienc...salinity
shows negligible difference in salinity between arctic and antarctic. Apparently, those "250 gigatones" of melting ice shelves fail to make any dent in southern ocean salinity. Upon quick investigation it becomes clear why: the volume of southern ocean is
71,800,000 cubic *kilometers*
http://www.ngdc.n...mes.html
That right: it is more than 10^5 times bigger.

Maggnus
4 / 5 (20) Mar 26, 2014
You think you have won the salinity debate? Let me repost the arguments which were not challenged:
Atta boy, dodge the questions, typical denialist claptrap.
The salinity map
See that big white thing at the bottom? That's called a "continent". Look that up. Do you understand what "average" means?
That right: it is more than 10^5 times bigger.
And, again, saltier water is also denser water. That means that the water that is coming off the continent is lighter and therefore spreads out over the colder, denser water below. That also subjects it to lower freezing temperatures, but because it is thin, it is also subject to being moved about by wind. This allows more ice to form behind it.
http://www.thegua...sceptics

So, yes actually I have won the salinity debate.
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (20) Mar 26, 2014
http://ocean.stan...e_03.pdf

"...The main mechanism to transfer heat deeper is turbulent mixing by winds and
waves, which establishes a mixed surface layer that can be as thick as 200-300 meters or
even more at mid-latitudes in the open ocean in winter or less than 10 meters in sheltered
coastal waters in summer..."

This sounds reasonable: ferocious winter storms do mix the water. Let's explore this fact a little.

The first consequence is that if not the whole volume is mixing than, perhaps, something between 10 and 300 meters. So you may lower my number perhaps as much as 100 times (I'm being generous). Still, 250 Gtonnes is less than 0.1 percent of the volume.

The second corollary is that because the mix depth vary by factor of 10 the salinity effect should be seasonable. Since you have implied that salinity affects ice cover, then we should see seasonable ice extent anomaly? Sorry, there is no evidence of it.
Maggnus
3.8 / 5 (17) Mar 27, 2014
Well, no quotes cause I need the room. First, that is a good link you put up there, and you should really read it all the way through a couple of times. That map near the bottom? Do you see that area called "Antarctic Circumpolar Currant"? You should spend some time after you've read the link you've given to then look up what that is. Now, in order for there to be a "turbulent mixing by winds" a couple of things are needed. First, there is open ocean. That means no ice. The big thing about the circumpolar current is that is cuts off the warmer, mid latitude oceanic waters from the much colder southern ocean waters, and creates a very distinct zone between the two areas. This zone is also marked by significant surface winds - look up "The Roaring Forties". This is partly a result of the way the ocean water is circulating, which itself is a result of a thing called the coriolis effect. You keeping up so far?
Maggnus
3.9 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2014
Now at the margin between the circumpolar current and the warmer mid-latitude oceans a great deal of mixing takes place. This is the area your link is talking about (well simply, and mostly) not the deep southern oceans where the ice buildup is occurring.
See, the really colder surface water of the southern oceans is cut off by that circumpolar current. That means there is not a lot of mixing in that part of the ocean, and that mixing is further stymied by the fact there is this huge land mass in the middle of it. Add to those two facts the additional fact of less dense ice melt from the ice sheets and the higher ice formation at the surface resulting from that less dense fresher melt water, and you have all of the conditions necessary to form large areas of thin sea surface ice.
So runrig, how did I do? Lol!
So yes, there is plenty of evidence for it, and the basics of its formation are straight forward and easily understood.
SteveS
4.3 / 5 (16) Mar 27, 2014
Let's get to the substance, shall we? The whole article premise is that Antarctic temperatures have been increased, but we have pretty reliable satellite observations of sea ice cover, which is pretty accurate proxy for temperature. So, unless you fix -- pardon, adjust -- these data, the whole story about accelerated glacier melt in West antarctic is not entirely convincing.


What is your issue with this study, why do you find it so unconvincing? How have the people involved been lazy and incompetent when all they have done is analyse the "pretty reliable satellite observations" and provided empirical evidence to support their findings?

You have made some very derogatory accusations here, where is your evidence?
runrig
4.1 / 5 (17) Mar 27, 2014
Let's get to the substance, shall we? The whole article premise is that Antarctic temperatures have been increased, but we have pretty reliable satellite observations of sea ice cover, which is pretty accurate proxy for temperature. So, unless you fix -- pardon, adjust -- these data, the whole story about accelerated glacier melt in West antarctic is not entirely convincing.


Actually no, sea-ice far from a good proxy for temperature in the Antarctic environment. See a recent paper on same.
How about salinity and divergent winds which, unlike the Arctic, would expand the ice area.
Try thinking scientifically and not ideologically.
runrig
4.1 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2014
You think you have won the salinity debate? Let me repost the arguments which were not challenged:

The salinity map
http://www.scienc...salinity
That right: it is more than 10^5 times bigger.


Err, since when was the measure of the issue of increase in Antarctic sea ice that of comparison of salinity between the Arctic and the Antarctic pray?
It is, of course merely a function of the DECREASE in salinity around Antarctica re increasing glacial melt.
Also this...
http://phys.org/n...tic.html

Shows the effect of divergent winds on sea-ice and the fact that the ice is thinner also and thus more easily blown.

I would suggest a study, of not only the vastly different environments that are the Arctic and the Antarctic but also basic knowledge of Meteorology, Oceanography, Climatology and just about every other Ology there is.
You only serve to highlight your/deniers ignorance.
runrig
3.9 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2014
So runrig, how did I do? Lol!


You did good Maggnus...

I've been diverted away from here lately and it's good to see you taking over my mantle.
Sinister1812
3.8 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014
And people say that the Antarctic ice is growing. Realistically, we know that's vanishing too.
aksdad
2.2 / 5 (17) Mar 27, 2014
Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise...

And the global rate of sea level rise continues to chug along at the same unalarming pace it has for a century or more, roughly 1.7mm a year, apparently thumbing its nose at yet another claim of "unprecedented change".

Maybe the only thing unprecedented is the lack of data prior to recent decades which would provide some context as to whether this is unusual. Regardless, sea level rise remains pretty much the same: slow.

And before anyone goes crazy and claims sea level rise has accelerated since 1993 to over 3 mm a year (still slow), consider that the higher number comes from satellites and it diverges from tide gauge data which has been the gold standard for the last century.

Bottom line: keep calm and carry on.
thermodynamics
4.4 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014

Maybe the only thing unprecedented is the lack of data prior to recent decades which would provide some context as to whether this is unusual. Regardless, sea level rise remains pretty much the same: slow.

And before anyone goes crazy and claims sea level rise has accelerated since 1993 to over 3 mm a year (still slow), consider that the higher number comes from satellites and it diverges from tide gauge data which has been the gold standard for the last century.

Bottom line: keep calm and carry on.

Assdad: interesting comment, but do you have a link to back it up?

http://oceanservi...vel.html

This link from NOAA has words so that might be difficult for you to read, but it also has links at the end of the article that has pretty pictures and even some links to papers you just must have missed. I am sure you will see all of the science as a great conspiracy by the illuminati but it is really the Martians trying to get your tax money...
TegiriNenashi
1.6 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014
Now at the margin between the circumpolar current and the warmer mid-latitude oceans a great deal of mixing takes place. This is the area your link is talking about (well simply, and mostly) not the deep southern oceans where the ice buildup is occurring.


It is not enough to propose a mechanism how some effect can, could, or might occur. In science you have to provide numbers and quantify phenomena. I gave you several numbers. You do hand waving.

See, the really colder surface water of the southern oceans is cut off by that circumpolar current.


Look at the map of water temperatures
http://www7320.nr...cast.gif
Where do you see the alleged temperature boundary? I see continuous temperature decrease; exactly at what latitude the alleged cutoff happens?
TegiriNenashi
1.6 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014
That means there is not a lot of mixing in that part of the ocean, and that mixing is further stymied by the fact there is this huge land mass in the middle of it.


You are onto geography lessons? This land mass is supposed to decrease wind speed and mixing? If there were no antarctic continent, then "roaring forties" become "ferocious forties"?

Add to those two facts the additional fact of less dense ice melt from the ice sheets and the higher ice formation at the surface resulting from that less dense fresher melt water, and you have all of the conditions necessary to form large areas of thin sea surface ice


Just throwing down physical fact doesn't make it applicable. You have to quantify things. You will sound convincing after:
1. Giving exact number of increased ice shelf discharge.

http://www.thereg...warming/

2. Demonstrate that mixing is small.
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014
It is not enough to propose a mechanism how some effect can, could, or might occur. In science you have to provide numbers and quantify phenomena. I gave you several numbers. You do hand waving.
You gave nothing you pompous ass! No numbers at all, just a link to a lesson you obviously didn't even take the time to read. You don't even seem to know what "open ocean" means. That you then come back to put your ignorance and misunderstandings on display is laughable!

Look at the map of water temperatures
http://www7320.nr...cast.gif
Where do you see the alleged temperature boundary? I see continuous temperature decrease; exactly at what latitude the alleged cutoff happens?
Your can clearly see it ON THAT VERY MAP! I told you to look up "The Roaring Forties", the fact you are too ensconced in your denial to do so is simply more evidence of your ignorance.
Maggnus
4.3 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
You are onto geography lessons? This land mass is supposed to decrease wind speed and mixing? If there were no antarctic continent, then "roaring forties" become "ferocious forties"?
Not normally, but with you I obviously need to, given you have no idea about it. What would happen if there was no continent there is inconsequential to this conversation because it IS there! Remember, I pointed it out to you, its that big white thing in the map embedded in the first link you made!

1. Giving exact number of increased ice shelf discharge.

http://www.thereg...warming/
Dejé vu all over again. We have been down this road and the same links and papers I provided to you then apply here. Invoking zombie arguments, how typically denialist of you!

2. Demonstrate that mixing is small.
Demonstrate it's not. Have you read this very article? Did you read your own link? http://news.disco...1212.htm
TegiriNenashi
1.7 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
Let me put it in terms you can understand. Is there another large ice shield that your salinity hypothesis may apply to? How about Greenland? According to alarmists it is also melting at "unprecedented rate". So, compare sea ice cover in North Atlantic vs. that of Bering Straight. If salinity were reduced near melting ice shield, we would notice the expanded sea ice near Greenland (and nothing in the Bering Straight region)?

Next, what do you see on the salinity map? 37ppt in (both!) polar regions, vs 34ppt at the equator. The paper (which you asserted I didn't read) explains it by evaporation. Glacial melt is nowhere in the picture. It exists only in your (warming damaged) mind.
TegiriNenashi
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 27, 2014
Here is a map with better resolution:
http://www.nasa.g..._prt.htm
The salinity in Arctic region is 32 ppt, vs 33 ppt in the Southern Ocean. You fail.
runrig
4.3 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
Let me put it in terms you can understand. Is there another large ice shield that your salinity hypothesis may apply to? How about Greenland? According to alarmists it is also melting at "unprecedented rate". So, compare sea ice cover in North Atlantic vs. that of Bering Straight. If salinity were reduced near melting ice shield, we would notice the expanded sea ice near Greenland (and nothing in the Bering Straight region)?


Err - no we wouldn't.
Why? Because of basic Meteorology my friend.
There's a certain thing called the North Atlantic Drift - ie warm waters pushed north into the Greenland region, this causing accentuated storm development and enhanced west to SW'ly winds ( in the main ). Therefore winds blow ice formation away and through the Norwegian Sea and towards the Barents and Kara Seas.
Anything else you're unclear about?
Don't be afraid to ask.
runrig
4.3 / 5 (11) Mar 27, 2014
Here is a map with better resolution:
http://www.nasa.g..._prt.htm
The salinity in Arctic region is 32 ppt, vs 33 ppt in the Southern Ocean. You fail.


Like I said, comparative salinity is irrelevant.
All that matters is the fact that Antarctic seas are becoming LESS salty.
And the ice, though more extensive due wind drift, is also thinner.
And is a poor proxy for temperature.
TegiriNenashi
1.6 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2014
...Therefore winds blow ice formation away and through the Norwegian Sea and towards the Barents and Kara Seas


Nice fairy tale to tell Titanic passengers.
runrig
4.3 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
...Therefore winds blow ice formation away and through the Norwegian Sea and towards the Barents and Kara Seas


Nice fairy tale to tell Titanic passengers.


Ignorance is no excuse my friend.
runrig
4 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
...Therefore winds blow ice formation away and through the Norwegian Sea and towards the Barents and Kara Seas


Nice fairy tale to tell Titanic passengers.


You will find that the Titanic struck an iceberg brought south though the Davis Strait by the Labrador current, also a natural consequence of the prevailing wind in that region.
Anything more I can help you with?
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
...a natural consequence of the prevailing wind in that region...


So you have prevailing winds in North Atlantic -- I can grant you that. You also have prevailing winds in Southern Ocean. Prevailing winds in North Atlantic push icebergs in one direction. Prevailing winds in Antarctica also push icebergs somewhere. I fail to see how you can defend salinity hypothesis in one region and ignore it in the other.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
So you have prevailing winds in North Atlantic -- I can grant you that. You also have prevailing winds in Southern Ocean. Prevailing winds in North Atlantic push icebergs in one direction. Prevailing winds in Antarctica also push icebergs somewhere. I fail to see how you can defend salinity hypothesis in one region and ignore it in the other.


It's actually quite simple, although I suppose that if you are bound and determined to not understand, then you won't. In the south, the southern ocean is circulating due to the coriolis effect in a broad current called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). In the center of this area, covering the South Pole, is a large land mass. Between the ACC and Antarctica is an area of ocean often called the Southern Ocean. The prevailing winds over the ACC blow westerly, and they blow hard. This acts as a barrier which prevents ice and surface water from leaving the Southern Ocean. Less dense melt water is also held in this way, and ..cont..
runrig
4 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
...a natural consequence of the prevailing wind in that region...


So you have prevailing winds in North Atlantic -- I can grant you that. You also have prevailing winds in Southern Ocean. Prevailing winds in North Atlantic push icebergs in one direction. Prevailing winds in Antarctica also push icebergs somewhere. I fail to see how you can defend salinity hypothesis in one region and ignore it in the other.


The prevailing winds have two components - speed and direction.
Increased speed seems to be the causative factor here. This is plausible as the paper states in that increased surface warmth will increase instability and hence allow more of the gradient wind to lower to the surface.
BTW: mostly they are not icebergs in the Antarctic winter sea-ice build-up, but merely small pancake type ice with thickness of near 1m.
http://neptune.gs...tion=272
Maggnus
4 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2014
and it sits on top of the denser, colder water below. Due to the lower salinity of the overtopping water, it tends to freeze easier, but it also tends to spread out due to even fairly light wind action, such that it also stays relatively thin.

The southern most winds bounded by the ACC are very different than the winds in the North, which when you look at a globe makes perfect sense - in the south the ocean is continuous and only thinned a bit below South Africa and a bit more below South America. These are two of the most dangerous areas on the planet to sail in, directly due to this very thinning.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (8) Mar 28, 2014
So runrig, how did I do? Lol!


You did good Maggnus...

I've been diverted away from here lately and it's good to see you taking over my mantle.


I missed this earlier! Thanks for the praise, but I am definitely not taking over your mantle runrig, it's far to big for me! I'm glad you're back, your knowledge of meteorology is much needed and appreciated!
Rupyro
4.2 / 5 (10) Mar 29, 2014
Denialists are like Nazi soldiers. I am sure they are good people but are being led by something less than human. One day they will look back and feel bad about what they were a part of. Most will never admit it tho...
ubavontuba
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 29, 2014
Denialists are like Nazi soldiers. I am sure they are good people but are being led by something less than human. One day they will look back and feel bad about what they were a part of. Most will never admit it tho...
By "denialists" I presume you mean AGWites which refuse to acknowledge empirical science that the earth is cooloing?

http://www.woodfo...14/trend

3432682
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 29, 2014
The glaciers are calving because there is more ice build-up at the head end, the source. There is no net loss of ice, probably the opposite is true. Antarctic temperatures are getting slightly colder. Net ice is growing slightly. So of course there is more calving. But to an AGW alarmist, all natural conditions are signs of global warming. And of course many resort to calling the most extreme types of names. Think for yourself for a change, comrades.
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 29, 2014
By "denialists" I presume you mean AGWites which refuse to acknowledge empirical science that the earth is cooloing?

http://www.woodfo...14/trend



Whack-a-mole.

Argumentum ad nauseam

This is the incorrect belief that an assertion is more likely to be true, or is more likely to be accepted as true, the more often it is heard. So an Argumentum ad Nauseam is one that employs constant repetition in asserting something; saying the same thing over and over again until you're sick of hearing it.


On the Net, your argument is often less likely to be heard if you repeat it over and over again, as people will tend to put you in their kill files.