Pine Island Glacier under increasing threat of collapse
June 15, 2021 - Pine Island Glacier is increasingly vulnerable as a large, floating ice shelf that stops it from collapsing into the sea is breaking up more quickly than previously observed, creating vast icebergs.
Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier ice shelf loss has been accelerating since 2017, giving scientists cause to worry that climate change means the glacier could collapse hundreds of years earlier than predicted.
The fast moving glacier is composed of 160 trillion tonnes of ice – equivalent to half-a-metre of sea level rise – responsible for about 25% of the continent’s ice loss.
The ice shelf is important because it acts like a cork, blocking Pine Island Glacier (a much larger ice mass that lies behind it) from rapidly flowing into the ocean and melting.
For there to be an harmonious balance, the amount of ice melting should equal the amount of snow falling and forming ice in the region. If the glacier is allowed to enter the sea and thaw uninhibited, the scales will tip and global sea levels will rise.
The Pine Island Glacier ice shelf retreated more than 26km from 2015 to 2020, according to a research paper published in Science Advances. Lead author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist from the University of Washington, believes it’s not inconceivable that the whole shelf gives way within a few years.
Reports such as these highlight the vulnerability of Antarctica, a major reservoir for potential sea level rise, and illustrates just how important it is for humankind to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.
- Ice shelf protecting Antarctic glacier is breaking up faster (Associated Press)
- Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
- Pine Island Glacier (AntarcticGlaciers.org)
- What if sea levels rose 12 inches? (HowStuffWorks)
- Pine Island Glacier (Wikipedia)