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West Antarctica Ice Sheet Breakup Can Cause Flood In The Ocean's Coastline Globally -- Research

First Posted: Nov 29, 2016 04:29 AM EST
NASA | Operation IceBridge Discovers Massive Crack In Ice Shelf
NASA's Operation IceBridge discovered a major rift in the Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica.
(Photo : NASA Goddard/YouTube)

As the Earth continues to warm because of global warming, more ice sheets are melting -- especially the ones located in the West Antarctic. Recently, it shows that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is breaking apart from the inside out.

The researchers found that the Pine Island Glacier that is part of the ice shelf that bounds the West Antarctic Ice Shelf has the tendency to undergo a rapid retreat. It is one of the two glaciers that could bring more ice from the inside of the ice sheet going into the oceans. Of which, the melting could result in flooding of coastlines around the world .

In 2015, nearly 225 square miles of iceberg broke off from the glacier. But as the research team from the until Ohio State University are testing a new image processing software, they have found that something not usual happened in the satellite images that were captured before the event, a report by the Phys.Org said.

The captured images show that it is evident at the very base of the ice shelf rift formed nearly 20 miles inland in 2013. Over two years' time, the rift propagated upward until it broke through the ice surface and set the iceberg loose over 12 days in late July and early August of 2015. The discovery was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

An associate professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State and the study leader Ian Howat said that "It's generally accepted that it's no longer a question of whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt, it's a question of when. This kind of drifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see a significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes," according to UPI.

It is the first time that the researchers witnessed a deep subsurface rift that is opening within the Antarctic ice. Similar breakups are also found in the Greenland Ice Sheet, where the water from the ocean has seeped inland along the bedrock and started to melt the ice from underneath.

Howat mentioned that the images coming from the satellite revealed to be the first strong evidence that the large Antarctic ice shelves react to the changes at their ocean edge in the same way that was observed in Greenland.

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