Antarctica’s impending ice shelves may appear stationary, but they are slowly starting to move due to rising global temperatures.
Scientists fear that the mixture – the mixture of ice and snow that holds the ice shelves together – will start to melt due to the increased heat.
What is ice glue?
The mix is a mix of broken icebergs, windblown snow, and sea ice that surrounds the ice shelves. This mixture helps hold the ice shelves together, wrapping them tightly and attaching them to rocks and ridges.
But as temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius were first recorded last year, there are fears the mixture may start to melt faster, causing cracks and fractures in Antarctic ice shelves.
Researchers from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California studied ice faults to learn more about this process. Their work showed that the melting of the mixture could have caused the rupture of an iceberg the size of Delaware from the Larsen C pack ice in the winter of 2017.
Ice floes keep sea levels from rising
The importance of sea ice in control the sea level cannot be underestimated.
According to the researchers, the ice shelves act as roadblocks for the glaciers behind them, slowing their progress.
As they move slowly, pack ice clings to undersea ridges or small islands, slowing traffic. These snags can last for thousands of years, but in recent decades, due to rising temperatures and melting of the mixture, the movement of the sea ice has been much faster and cracks have appeared more regularly.
These cracks turn into faults and widen, until they eventually break loose, releasing icebergs into the ocean. If, like Larsen B, the whole plateau breaks, the glaciers behind will be freed and flow into the sea, sea level rise.
How NASA is mapping the problem
Scientists involved in the study used computer programming to track possible temperature increases and modeled the entire Larsen C ice shelf using observations from NASA. Operation IceBridge and local satellites.
The team then chose 11 faults for further analysis, choosing the thinnest ones, which are most likely to break. Scientists found that the mixture melted mainly due to contact with ocean water below, a process that can take place at any time of the year.
Finding out that this process runs from the bottom up has helped experts understand why many Antarctic ice shelves break decades before meltwater appears on their surface.
This shows us that Antarctica is perhaps even more threatened by global warming than previously thought.