Recent research by a prominent UK scientific journal and an independent science news publication has concluded that an iceberg on the Antarctic Peninsula is on the verge of breaking off from the ice shelf that it rests upon. Although scientists have been aware of this possibility for years, no idea has been able to pinpoint the cause. This latest study comes on the heels of a separate study which indicated that the ice shelf was weakening at an even faster rate. If the ice shelves continue to weaken at this rate, it could lead to massive coastal flooding over the coming years.
The findings of both studies come on the same day as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meets in June in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss solutions to this worrying problem.
There are two contributing factors to the recent accelerated melt of the ice shelves. One is the overall global warming, which has caused the warming of the ocean currents off the coast of the Antarctic Islands. Another factor is the increased volume of water from melting glaciers into the ocean which is slowly adding to the increased momentum of the ice shelves. If these two factors were not present, it is very unlikely that the ice shelf would be facing a collapse.
If the ice shelf were to collapse, it would release enough pressure to force the iceberg into the ocean. This would cause massive flooding as the warmer ocean currents would rush to fill the gap created by the breakup of the ice. Other smaller icebergs may also collapse, depending on their location. The instability of the ice shelves is likely to continue as the global warming continues.
Global warming has caused the melt rate of the ice to be faster than normal. Ice melt has accelerated in the last few years with the additional melt-water from the melt ice caps. This has resulted in more rapid melting of the ice. Satellite images show that the melt-water from the Arctic Ocean is more rapid than normal. In addition to this, ocean currents are accelerating as the warm air mass melting in the Arctic is replaced by colder air mass. All of this melting will have an effect on the movement of the ice and consequently on the amount of ice floating above the Arctic Ocean.
The ice shelf is considered to be one of the most important natural barriers of the Arctic. It helps to regulate the sea-ice and to provide a sheltered area for marine life like marine mammals and fish to live. This structure is considered to be under pressure due to the increase melt rate of the ice and the increasing ocean current. If the ice shelf were to collapse, the transport of heat and energy to the ocean from the surface of the Earth would cease. This would result in severe climate changes and melting of ice in the Polar Regions.
There have been some speculations in the scientific community about the link between global warming and the accelerated retreat of the ice shelves. It has been speculated that global warming may result in accelerating melting of the ice because the extra heat would allow the melt water to melt into the ocean much faster and therefore raise global temperatures even more. These speculations are based mainly on the research of James E. Ellis, who has used ice core drilling to examine the relationship between temperature and ice thickness.
Recent research by various groups including scientists at the University of Washington has brought a new insight into the process of global warming and its impact on the Arctic environment. Using data collected from ice cores, they found that the rate of change of ice thickness was similar to the rate of change of other types of glaciers. Furthermore, the rate of change of the ice shelves was not consistent with the speed of global warming. This research study concluded that the observed acceleration of the melt rate of the ice shelves is primarily caused by changing precipitation and snowfall. The melting of ice is not causing an increase in sea-ice since the ice is already lost from the interior of the ice shelves when there is significant rainfall. Global warming is believed to have only a small effect on the breakup of ice shelves since the melt-water runoff is not able to reach the inner parts of ice shelves due to the thickness of the ice.
Other than contributing to global warming, melting of ice shelves can also lead to devastating environmental effects. When the ice shelf surrounding the Antarctica’s ice major, Collapsible Ice Research (CIR) found that this part of the ice shelf is starting to collapse. Although this research did not directly connect global warming to the causes of the ice shelf collapse, it is believed to be one of the possible factors. There are also many fears that melting will increase the risk of flooding in the regions where ice shelves are located.
Provided by Antonio Westley
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion.