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Pine Island Glacier sensitive to climatic variability

Posted on January 3, 2014

A new study published in Science this month suggests the thinning of Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is much more susceptible to climatic and ocean variability than at first thought. Observations by a team of scientists at British Antarctic Survey, and other institutions, show large fluctuations in the ocean heat in Pine Island Bay. The team discovered that oceanic melting of the ice shelf into which the glacier flows decreased by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2012, and this may have been due to a La Ninã weather event.

Pine Island Glacier has thinned continuously during past decades driven by an acceleration in its flow. The acceleration is thought to be caused by thinning of the floating ice shelf created as the glacier slides into the sea. Understanding the processes driving ice shelf thinning and the glacier’s response is key to assessing how much it will contribute to rising sea levels.

It’s now known that much of the thinning is due to a deep oceanic inflow of Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) on the continental shelf neighbouring the glacier. This warmer water then makes its way into a cavity beneath the ice shelf melting it from below.

The passage of this warmer water was made easier by the unpinning of the ice shelf from an underwater ridge.

Read more at: Phys.org

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