Scientists have uncovered vulnerabilities in the critical ice shelf in Antarctica

The current glacial front of the Pine Island glacier, which is located approximately 50-60 meters above the water surface. Credit: Robert Larter

The West Antarctic Pine Island ice shelf, which traps enough ice to raise sea level by 0.5 metres, may be more vulnerable to complete disintegration than previously thought. A new study led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists shows that two processes, the latter of which can already interact with shelf stability, increasing the potential for collapse.

That’s big ice shelf (the part of the glacier that floats on the sea) controls the flow of ice from Pine Island Glacier, roughly the size of England, into the Amundsen Sea. This is a critical role because the glacier is one of the world’s largest and fastest changes and is responsible for approximately 25% of the ice loss from Antarctica. This is equivalent to the amount of water in 13,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Scientists previously observed that the Pine Island ice shelf is becoming increasingly fragile due to two processes: increased thinning, as a result of increased sea-melt ice shelf, and increased natal events in which ice blocks break into icebergs.

Now, a team of researchers has shown that the combination of calving and thawing will likely contribute to Pine Island’s ice shelf melting more than expected.

Dr. Alex Bradley, ocean modeler at BAS and lead author of the study. “This study highlights the extreme sensitivity of ice shelves to climate change. It shows that the interaction between blister and melt can promote the disintegration of the Pine Island ice shelf, which we already thought was vulnerable to collapse.”







attributed to him: ESA (distributed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

The team used advanced ocean modeling techniques to simulate the effects of ongoing natal events to see how this would affect the rate of melt. Their simulations show that calving events can lead to further thinning of the ice shelf, which in turn will make the ice shelf more susceptible to calving. This indicates that a loop feedback Between the two processes can exist and accelerate the complete disintegration of the ice shelf. This would reduce its ability to stop the flow of ice from the Pine Island Glacier into the sea and increase its contribution to the world sea ​​level go up.

Bradley continues: “The complete disintegration of the Pine Island ice shelf would have severe consequences not only for the glacier but also for West Antarctica as it is believed to play an essential role in maintaining the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet.”

Scientists have uncovered vulnerabilities in the critical ice shelf in Antarctica

How did the ice front retreat to the Pine Island ice front. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

In a warming climate, birth events are likely to become more frequent, and thus this study points to an urgent need to reduce emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

“The Impact of the Birth of the Pine Island Ice Shelf on Core Melt” by Alex Bradley, David Peet, Pierre Dautreau, Jean de Reddt, and Paul Holland, has been published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.


Ice shelves prevent glaciers in Antarctica from increasing sea levels, but they are crumbling


more information:
AT Bradley et al, Effect of the pine island ice shelf on basal melting, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (2022). DOI: 10.1029/2022JC018621

Introduction of
British Antarctic Survey


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