published on 2 May 2019 in water

The Ross Ice Shelf is melting 10 times faster than forecast

The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica is melting faster than previously forecast. This has been revealed by an international study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), which analysed the melt rate at the base of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest Antarctic ice shelf. According to this new research, published in Nature Geoscience, this ice shelf, more or less the size of France, is losing its basal mass around 10 times faster than previously forecast, due to the seasonal inflow of warm water, putting the stability of the whole Antarctic continent at risk. “The stability of ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their exposure to warm deep ocean water, but we’ve found that solar-heated surface water also plays a crucial role in melting ice shelves”, explains Craig Stewart, author of the study.

The collection of the data, over four years, was made possible by placing oceanographic probes beneath the ice shelf. Further information on the ice shelf was provided by instruments placed at a depth of 260 metres through a borehole. Thanks to these instruments, the scientists have been able to detect the presence of ocean currents beneath the ice and measure various parameters, including salinity, temperature and the melting rate. Lastly, using an extremely precise radar system they succeeded in monitoring even the smallest variations in the thickness of the ice.

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