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  • The Chilean Antarctic Institute’s scientific vessel is seen in front of the Collins Glacier, Antarctica, Chile, Feb. 2, 2019.

    The Chilean Antarctic Institute’s scientific vessel is seen in front of the Collins Glacier, Antarctica, Chile, Feb. 2, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 February 2019
Opinion

Scientists are studying the growth of meltwater lakes on the continental shelf.

Scientists, who are currently studying the growth of meltwater lakes in Antarctica, confirm that giant blocks of ice are separating from the continental shelf and warn that this process has very high effects to global climate change.

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The last block to detach was the Larsen C which, from a geological time perspective, separated at a surprising speed from the ice shelf. On its surface meltwater lagoons of more than 4,305 square feet abounded and the crack that began to separate it from the continent measured almost 124 miles long and in some of its parts, the width reached 6,562 feet.

When the crack of the Larsen C reached its final expansion it generated an iceberg of about 1,930 square miles, which is 24 times the size of Buenos Aires city. Its size exceeded the forecasts indicated by scientists from Midas, a project developed jointly by professionals from the Universities of Swansea and Aberystwyth.

Meanwhile, scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES), whose headquarters are at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that meltwater lakes grew exponentially, a physical process which may have caused the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002.

The carbon dioxide emission is one of the main causes of the current Antarctica's melting. Scientists warned that the platform's situation could potentially impact other vulnerable ice shelves, which will break them, accelerate the discharge of ice into the ocean and, finally, contribute to the global increase in sea level. For some, this process is the "beginning of the end".

CIRES postdoctoral researcher Alison Banwell, who is the lead author of a study published in Nature Communications, said her team studied the causes of the ice shelf weakening after analyzing the catastrophic rupture of the Larsen B ice shelf.

That break made it to headlines in 2002 when about 772 square miles of ice separated in the ocean. Scientists noticed that, in the previous months, the ice shelf was dotted with more than 2,000 meltwater lakes.

The volume of ice mass that the Antarctic loses annually now has multiplied by six with respect to what was recorded 40 years ago. This means that melting is 280 percent faster than it was four decades ago.

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