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Ice Collapse In Antarctica Horrifies Scientists

First Posted: Apr 13, 2016 05:15 AM EDT
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In July 2012, the catastrophic collapse of a 700-foot slab of glacial ice in Antarctica, called the Larsen A Ice shelf, horrified soldiers at the Matienzo Base. They were not injured, but they saw what yielded important lessons about the vulnerability of the ice sheets, especially with a steadily warming planet.

When the analysis of the instability of ice sheets was published, the public was surprised, especially considering that the projected global sea level may rise by six feet by 2100, and as much as 40 to 50 feet by 2500. Still, these predictions were optimistic. According to the National Geographic, the numbers seemed to have doubled overnight, and it seems that large increases of sea level rise can be expected.

Today, the fjords of the northeastern Antarctic peninsula looks scarred, even to the most casual of observers.  Some of the scars ran along the walls of the fjord, many of them gray gravel, and others, darker and browner mountains. The glaciers are gone and have retreated to several miles into the fjord, and the place that used to hold 2,000 feet of ice now held only seawater instead.

Sjogren's fjord also disintegrated from its ice shelf in 1995, and the glacier started moving into the sea two times its original speed. After a few years, the glacier then retreated miles into its fjord as the icebergs splintered off.

This scenario unfolds each time an ice shelf disintegrates along the peninsula, and some of the glaciers stream up to sea up to nine times their original speeds.

Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and David Pollard of the Pennsylvania State University have been trying to predict the fate of Antarctic ice, building processes of melt ponding, hydrofracture, and cliff collapse to an ice sheet model, and their simulations, published in Nature, predicted the shocking future of nearly six feet (or two meters) of sea rise by 2100 - and it means hundreds of millions of people being displaced from coastal cities worldwide.

Ice loss started at a narrow beachhead, but it has now expanded on multiple fronts with new regions disintegrating every several years. As warm summer temperatures go further south, the problems will only get worse - and will drive the rapid retreat of ice in Antarctica.

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