Scientists find risk to Antarctic ice sheet

Sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by 164 feet

Thu, Aug 29, 2013, 01:00

The world’s largest ice sheet could be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than previously thought, according to new research.

Scientists used declassified spy satellite imagery from 1963 to 2012 to create a 50-year record of changes in the terminus of outlet glaciers – where they meet the sea – along 3,355 miles (5,400km) of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet’s coastline.

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet holds the vast majority of the world’s ice and enough to raise global sea levels by more than 164ft (50m).

Using measurements from 175 glaciers, the researchers from the Geography Department of Durham University were able to show that the glaciers underwent rapid and synchronised periods of advance and retreat which coincided with cooling and warming.

This suggested that large parts of the ice sheet, which reaches thicknesses of more than 2.5 miles, could be more susceptible to changes in air temperatures and sea-ice than originally believed.

Current scientific opinion suggests that glaciers in east Antarctica are at less risk from climate change than Greenland or west Antarctica due to its icy temperatures which can fall below minus 30 degrees at the coast, and much colder further inland.

But the Durham team said there was an urgent need to understand the vulnerability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature.– (PA)