Hope for Antarctica’s ice sheets

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: Antarctica, Environment, My Last Continent, News, Oceans

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A new study from University of Pennsylvania researchers has found that Antarctic lake deposits have remained frozen for at least the last 14 million years — which suggests that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has also remained intact.

If the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, or  EAIS, didn’t experience significant melting during the Pliocene (a period from 3 to 5 million years ago, when carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to what they are today), this offers new hope that perhaps the continent won’t melt away, as many fear it eventually could.

Current climate change projections indicate that the marine portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is “a goner,” [Jane] Willenbring said. Studies from the past few years suggest that sea level will likely rise a few meters as that ice melts. But the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is 20 times more massive. If it melted, the ensuing sea level rise would be even more catastrophic than the western peninsula’s dissolution.

However, while this study offers hope that a massive collapse of the ice sheet, and the subsequent sea level rise, may not be imminent, the differences between the Pliocene and the rapid warming of today’s climate are great enough that it’s impossible to draw any definitive conclusions. As Willenbring says,”we’ve probably never experienced such a fast transition to warm temperatures as we’re seeing right now.”

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