Hidden Volcanoes Melt Antarctic Glaciers from Below

Jun 10th, 2014 | By | Category: Glaciers

thwaits-antarctica-140609-670Antarctica is a land of ice. But dive below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and you’ll find fire as well, in the form of subglacial volcanoes.

Now, a new study finds that these subglacial volcanoes and other geothermal “hotspots” are contributing to the melting of Thwaites Glacier, a major river of ice that flows into Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay. Areas of the glacier that sit near geologic features thought to be volcanic are melting faster than regions farther away from hotspots, said Dustin Schroeder, the study’s lead author and a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin.

This melting could significantly affect ice loss in the West Antarctic, an area that is losing ice quickly.

5 Myths About Antarctic Melt

“It’s not just the fact that there is melting water, and that water is coming out,” Schroeder told Live Science. “It’s how that affects the flow and stability of the ice.” [Images: See an Antarctic Glacier Calve an Iceberg]

Antarctic heat

Researchers have long known that volcanoes lurk under the ice of West Antarctica. This is a seismically active region, where East and West Antarctica are rifting apart. In 2013, a team of scientists even found a new volcano beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

West Antarctica is also hemorrhaging ice due to climate change, and recent studies have suggested there is no way to reverse the retreat of West Antarctic glaciers. However, the timing of this retreat is still in question, Schroeder said — it could take hundreds of years, or thousands. It’s important to understand which, given that meltwater from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes directly to sea level rise.

Scientists use computer models to try to predict the future of the ice sheet, but their lack of understanding of subglacial geothermal energy has been a glaring gap in these models. Measuring geothermal activity under the ice sheet is so difficult that researchers usually just enter one, uniform estimate for the contributions of geothermal heat to melting, Schroeder said.

Of course, volcanism isn’t uniform. Geothermal hotspots no doubt influence melting more in some areas than in others.

“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” study co-author Don Blankenship, a geophysicist at UT Austin, said in a statement. “And then, you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”

Source>>

About

Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

Himalayan Nations at Climate Change Conference-CoP21

Over 150 heads of state and government gathered in Paris at the UN climate change conference on Monday, 30 November, the largest group of leaders ever to attend a UN event in a single day. In speech after speech, they provided political leadership and support to reach an ambitious and effective climate change agreement by…

Read more…

Comments are closed.

seo packagespress release submissionsocial bookmarking services