Science and Nature

Ice shelf maintaining Antarctic glacier is breaking up sooner

A serious Antarctic glacier is taking a leer extra inclined as satellite photos show the ice shelf that blocks it from collapsing into the sea is breaking up important sooner than forward of and spawning gargantuan icebergs, a brand fresh look says.

The Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf loss accelerated in 2017, inflicting scientists to concern that with climate swap the glacier’s give plan would perchance presumably happen sooner than the many centuries predicted. The floating ice shelf acts love a cork in a bottle for the short-melting glacier and prevents its important bigger ice mass from flowing into the ocean.

That ice shelf has retreated by 12 miles (20 kilometers) between 2017 and 2020, in step with a look in Friday’s Science Advances. And the crumbling shelf was as soon as caught on time-lapse video from a European satellite that takes photos every six days.

“You might perchance perchance scrutinize stuff genuine tearing apart,” said look lead creator Ian Joughin, a College of Washington glaciologist. “So it nearly appears to be like love the stir-up itself is weakening the glacier. … And to this level we’ve lost per chance 20% of the indispensable shelf.”

Between 2017 and 2020, there derive been three immense breakup events, establishing icebergs extra than 5 miles (8 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) extensive, which then split into a good deal of littler objects, Joughin said. There furthermore had been many smaller breakups.

“It’s on no yarn impossible that the entire shelf would perchance presumably give plan and creep inner a few years,” Joughin said. “I’d enlighten that’s a protracted shot, but no longer a actually long shot.”

Joughin tracked two parts on the indispensable glacier and realized they had been difficult 12% sooner in direction of the sea beginning in 2017.

“So which plan 12% extra ice from Pine Island going into the ocean that wasn’t there forward of,” he said.

The Pine Island Glacier, which will not be any longer on an island doesn’t derive pine trees, is one in every of two aspect-by-aspect glaciers in western Antarctica that ice scientists concern most about shedding on that continent. The assorted is the Thwaites Glacier.

Pine Island comprises 180 trillion hundreds ice — the equal of 1.6 feet (half a meter) of sea stage rise — and is accountable for a few quarter of the continent’s ice loss.

“Pine Island and Thwaites are our largest concern now because they’re falling apart after which the comfort of West Antarctica will follow in step with conclude to all fashions,” said College of California Irvine ice scientist Isabella Velicogna, who wasn’t portion of the look.

Whereas ice loss is portion of climate swap, there was as soon as no irregular extra warming in the house that brought about this acceleration, Joughin said.

“These science outcomes proceed to highlight the vulnerability of Antarctica, a indispensable reservoir for most likely sea stage rise,” said Twila Moon, a Nationwide Snow and Ice Files scientist who wasn’t portion of the research. “Again and all as soon as more, other research has confirmed how Antarctica evolves in the long scramble will rely on human greenhouse gasoline emissions.”


Read reports on climate concerns by The Connected Press at


Apply Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.


The Connected Press Health and Science Division receives improve from the Howard Hughes Clinical Institute’s Division of Science Training. The AP is fully accountable for all affirm material.

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