Scientists are certain that a massive melting of Antarctica would spell disaster globally. If all of the ice in Antarctica were to melt, the sea levels would increase by an estimated 200 feet. Needless to say this level would destroy life as we know on this planet. Despite the potential impacts of glacial melting in Antarctica, scientists are still attempting to grasp the workings of region, including what is driving melting there.
Recent studies have found that the oceans are greatly influencing the melting of glaciers, in Greenland and Antarctica. The exposure to ocean water, especially when warm, is increasing the melting rate of glaciers. In Antarctica, scientists have determined that infiltrating ocean water has led to increased melting of a number of ice sheets surrounding Antarctica.
A recent study of Antarctica’s ice sheets determined that ocean currents are to blame for a considerable amount of melting in the region. In addition to the melting of the ice shelves themselves, the increased melting also has potentially important impacts on the glaciers they are up against, namely the East and West Antarctica Ice Sheets which hold the majority of ice on the continent. The melting of ice shelves leave the land glaciers exposed and they therefore melt more as a consequence.
A study published recently in the journal Nature studied the impact of rising temperatures in the Weddell Sea, a region bordering bother the East and West Ice Sheets. The Ronne-Filchner Ice Sheet lies in this sea and the potential impacts of rising temperatures in the sea were determined. Computer modeling enabled the team to study the impacts in the Weddell Sea if temperatures are similar to current projections for the year 2100.
According to the findings, the increasing temperatures in the Weddell Sea alongside a change in ocean circulation, would result in eliminating the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf. The impact of the removal of the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf is the most concerning aspect of the study due to the potential effect it would have on both the East and West Ice Sheets.
The ice shelves in essence keep the ice sheets in place and restrict their access to the warming seas around them. However, if the shelves were removed, the massive ice sheets of Antarctica would be subject to massive melting and therefore significant worldwide sea level raising.
The researchers determined that the Weddell Sea has the potential to be impacted by warming temperatures like the Amundsen Sea, a region in western Antarctica found to be increasingly impacted by warming. Co-author of the study, Hartmut Hellmer, stated: “We found a mechanism which drives warm water towards the coast with an enormous impact on the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the coming decades.”