How Stable Is The Antarctic Ice Sheet? Geophysicists Take Closer Look

First Posted: Feb 01, 2016 10:12 AM EST

How stable is the Antarctic ice sheet? The effects of global warming and climate change have been examined by numerous scientists, where the melting ice sheets happen to be among some of the researchers' main concerns. In the study, a team of geophysicists examined the stability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, one of the world's largest ice sheets, where they investigated the impact of the deep Earth on the ice sheet's stability.

The team initiated their research by studying other periods of global warming, such as the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period (MPWP), which occurred about three million years ago. Studying the effects of the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period could enable scientists to have a better understanding of past and potential periods of climate warming.

"While data analysis and ice-sheet modeling indicate that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted during the MPWP, concern over the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet continues," Robert Moucha, coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "The stability of a grounded, marine-based ice sheet depends on the elevation of the bedrock on which it rests."

The researchers created a model of the 3-million-year evolution of convective mantle flow, which enabled them to reconstruct the Antarctic bedrock elevation during the mid-Pliocene. The team found that regions with sub-glacial topography, like the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica had lower elevations levels during the mid-Pliocene.

"This had a profound effect on the retreat of the modeled ice-sheet grounding line [the point at which glaciers begin to float, instead of resting on bedrock], raising the global sea-level by a few more meters than would happen in a scenario involving present-day bedrock elevation," said Moucha. "This implies that the ice sheet in the Wilkes Basin may be more stable today than during the MPWP because it rests on more bedrock," Moucha says.

The findings of this study were published in the Geology.

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