The Western Ice Sheet Collapse

4 Jun

This is worrying news.

The Western Ice Sheet covers West Antarctica, i.e. on the West side of the Transantarctic Mountains. It is bounded by: the Ross Ice Shelf – hinged onto the Antarctic by the Ross Sea and the take off point for innumerable explorers -, the Ronne Ice Shelf, on the east side of the Weddell Sea (named after Edith Ronne who accompanied her husband on his explorations in the late 1940s and who died in 2009, aged 89), and the Amundsen Sea. It is estimated to contain under 10% of the total ice sheet of Antarctica.

The British have a significant scientific research presence in this region of Antarctica.

The ice sheet collapse is a topic that is difficult to follow and apologies if I have not fully followed the argument, but it is a subject one that has important implications for us all. As I understand it, the Western Ice Sheets glaciers are ‘grounded’ below sea level and slope downwards, becoming thicker, and bigger, close to land. This makes for a bigger surface area for warm water to work on, to melt and thin, causing the ice mass above the deep water to recede and making it vulnerable to calving, (breaking off) and resulting in collapse of the ice shelf. Differences in temperature between the ice glaciers and relatively warmer water at these ocean depths are the main driver.

Scientists have recorded the thinning and melting of the ice sheet over a number of years and forward projections suggest that this is irreversible and will continue. The melting will cause a rise in sea water level and although they conclude that the change is irrevocable, I am relieved that they suggest that a massive increase in water level will happen slowly in the next few years, perhaps less than a mm per year for a hundred years or so, but then, at a faster level, indeed so fast that it is suggested that the Western Ice Sheet may disappear.

My tiny contribution: recycling, reduce heating, energy saving light bulbs. Also, I drive a Smart Car!







Tour of Chatham Dockyards this Saturday plus talk by who re-enacted Shackleton’s 1914 journey

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