October 6, 2022

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Sea levels are rising sharply as glaciers melt

Updated October 26, 2021 at 7:30 p.m.

  • The melting of the Pine Island glacier will raise global sea level by five centimeters.
  • Currently, about 40 percent of ice loss is caused by glaciers melting in western Antarctica.

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Over the next 200 years, only the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica will contribute a good five centimeters to global sea level rise. According to American researchers in the journal Science Advances, by the end of the century it may have been two centimeters.

Glacier melting currently accounts for about 40 percent of ice loss in western Antarctica, which is particularly severely affected by Antarctic ice melting, explains Ian Jakin’s team at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Pine Island glacier pushes ice into the Amundsen Sea in western Antarctica. There are wind patterns that have been changing over the decades, injecting sometimes high, sometimes low, warm deep water into the glacial fringes. Scientists explain that this has caused considerable uncertainty in predictions about Antarctica’s contribution to sea level rise.

The computer model simulates glacier melting

Using 2017 measurement data, Joukin and colleagues simulated glacier melting in a computer model for the next 200 years. They carried out 30 simulations each at rates of melting ice of 57, 75, 100 and 125 billion tons per year.

“Despite the complexity of the model, a single value, with an average melting rate of 200 years, almost completely predicts the contribution of Pine Island glaciers to sea level rise over the next 200 years,” the researchers said. This finding will greatly facilitate the calculation of future snow losses from similar glaciers.

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The shape of the pine island glacier may play a role

This connection may be due to the special shape of the pine island glacier: it is fed by a large catchment area, but is relatively narrow towards the sea due to the shape of the terrain. In a narrow space, the movement of ice accelerates as water flows rapidly along narrow paths.

At the point where the iceberg meets the ocean, the ice layer on the water is relatively narrow. “While our hypothesis for one glacier has been confirmed, it may be for other glaciers with narrow shelves,” the study authors write. This should clarify further inquiries.

Fear that the western Antarctic ice sheet will collapse completely

Jogin and colleagues believe that the Pine Island glacier and other glaciers in this bay of the Amundsen Sea will lose a great deal of ice beyond 200 years. Over the centuries this would lead to the complete collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet.

Scientists told the April 2021 issue of Nature that glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland have been accelerating over the past two decades. It was 227 billion tonnes in the first five years of this period and 298 billion tonnes in the last five years. Global melting glaciers accounted for 21 percent or 0.74 millimeters per year of global sea level rise. (jwo / dpa)
© dpa

Researchers in the current Lancet Countdown report warn that climate change threatens not only our planet but also our health. For example, the chances of the spread of dengue or Zika fever in Europe are increasing.

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