Climate Change

East Antarctic Ice Sheet Also Vulnerable to Climate Change

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Photo: Shutterstock

Scientists had been under the impression for some time that the East Antarctica ice sheet was relatively protected from climate change because it’s so isolated. However, it turns out that it is likely as vulnerable as the West Antarctica sheet. This is because the persistent warm winds across the ice sheet remove snow, which leaves the darker ice exposed so that it soaks up more sunlight, becomes warmer, and melts.

The ice sheets themselves are floating, so they don’t contribute to rising sea levels, but they do keep the continental ice in Antarctica from melting into the ocean, which would raise sea levels. That, hopefully, won’t happen any time soon, but recent research has revealed that there are a number of “hotspots” where the ice sheet is melting, and a number of holes in the ice that allow melting water to be released into the ocean, instead of staying on the sheet and refreezing.

They even found a crater on the King Baudoin ice shelf that was originally thought to be a meteor impact crater. The researchers realized it was not a meteorite, but rather, it was proof of a great deal of melting.

Craters like this one, known as moulins, are commonly found in Greenland, but haven’t been observed in Antarctica until now. They were first noticed after research determined that a crater under the ice in Antarctica, first discovered by satellite imagery in 1989, was one such moulin, essentially a collapsed lake.

Although there was some concern that the crater may have been caused by climate change, that isn’t clear, though it’s not all that likely. There is always melt-water on the East Antarctic ice sheet, and the amount varies from year to year, though there is definitely a greater amount in warmer years. Those warmer years are happening more frequently thanks to climate change.

The crater may not be new, and it may not have been enlarged by climate change, but the fact that it exists does mean that more melt water than expected is actually making its way into the ocean.

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