I camped on the ice for a month, some of the scientists will be out there for far longer, two months or more. The ice in East Antarctica is thick - more than a mile thick on average - but it rests on high ground and only creeps sluggishly to the sea. Two highly stressed and massive glaciers in Antarctica have “broken free” of some of their naturally grounded restraints, scientists say. They need tonnes of specialist equipment and tens of thousands of litres of fuel, as well as tents and other camping supplies and food. Melt water is fresh and therefore relatively light. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. The deep warm circumpolar water travels all the way around the continent but has been increasingly encroaching on the icy edge of West Antarctica. I was supposed to leave Antarctica at the end of December but all the delays mean the drilling only begins on 7 January. But drilling a 30cm hole through almost half a mile of ice at the front of the most remote glacier in the world is not easy. This is the first of a whole catalogue of delays and disruptions. We are told we cannot delay our flights off the continent any longer and must leave on the supply plane that is due to arrive at the camp in an hour or so. It is not unusual to have hurricane force winds as well as very low temperatures. The ice is about -25C (-13F) so the hole is liable to freeze over and the whole process is dependent on the vagaries of the weather. The front of the glacier is almost 100 miles wide (160km) and is collapsing into the sea at up to two miles (3km) a year. Then smaller planes - an elderly Dakota and a couple of Twin Otters - ferried the people and supplies on to the field camps, hundreds of miles down the glacier towards the sea. At its deepest point, the base of the glacier is more than a mile below sea level and there is another mile of ice on top of that. The key is the warm seawater, which originates on the other side of the world. That is when the satellite phone call comes from the United States Antarctic Program HQ in McMurdo. It is smaller but still huge, and is much more vulnerable to change. The Icefin team, along with 40 or so other scientists, are part of the .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link{color:#3F3F42;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{color:#696969;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{font-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{border-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;}@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em){.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{border-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;}}International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a five-year, $50m (£38m) joint UK-US effort to understand why it is changing so rapidly. So, the more the glacier melts, the more quickly the ice in it is likely to flow. It’s true that Antarctic ice is melting, but it is primarily from warming ocean water that is melting floating ice shelves that surround much of the continent, from underneath. Photographs by Jemma Cox and David Vaughan. share. Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. I look back and see the wheel at the top of the drill turning, the black hose spooling out steadily. Increase the amount of energy in the system, he says, and inevitably big global processes are going to change. In some places the great sheet of ice has broken up completely, collapsing into a jumble of massive icebergs which float in drunken chaos. A new island has been discovered off the coast of Antarctica thanks to melting glaciers. Yet, until this year, no-one has attempted a large-scale scientific survey on the glacier. If it weren't for the ice, it would be deep ocean with a few islands. Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. This one is relatively mild for Antarctica but still involves three days of wind gusting up to 50mph. The scale is staggering and explains why Thwaites is already such an important component of world sea level rise, but I am shocked to discover there is another process that could accelerate its retreat even more. "The amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017," Ms Nullis added, citing images showing cracks in glaciers in Antarctica. Hélène Seroussi, a jet propulsion laboratory scientist at Nasa, said: “It could happen in the next 200 to 600 years. It's one of Antarctica's fastest-melting glaciers, having lost an estimated 595 billion tons (540 billion metric tons) of ice since the 1980s. Antarctica has nearly eight times more land-based ice than Greenland and 50 times more than all mountain glaciers combined. It will take years to process all the information the team has gathered and incorporate the findings into the models that are used to project future sea level rise. There has been lots of talk lately about Antarctica and whether or not the continent’s giant ice sheet is melting. "It'll be the most southerly jacuzzi in the world," jokes Paul Anker, a British Antarctic Survey drilling engineer. This heavy salty water is carried by a deep ocean current called the Atlantic conveyor all the way down to the south Atlantic. Icefin, the robot submarine, has managed to make five missions, taking a host of measurements in the water beneath the glacier and recording some extraordinary images. I've been in Antarctica five weeks before I finally board the red British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter that takes me to the front of the glacier. Between 1979 and 2017, the glacier experienced a cumulative mass loss of 268 billion tons of ice, according to the study, which was published on Monday. Dr Kiya Riverman, a glaciologist at the University of Oregon, drills down with an ice auger - a large spiral stainless-steel drill bit - and sets small explosive charges. This is where our changing climate comes in. Earier this month, the ice shelf of Antarctica's Thwaites glacier was found to be melting much faster than previously thought and is now nearly a quarter thinner than it was back in 1970s. As the front of the glacier melts, the weight of the vast reservoir of ice behind it pushes forward. This set of lists does not include ice sheets, ice caps or ice fields, such as the Antarctic ice sheet, but includes glacial features that are defined by their flow, rather than general bodies of ice. Sea level rise linked to warming has already been linked with increased coastal flooding and storm surges. What appears to be happening is that deep warm ocean water is flowing to the coast and down to the ice front, melting the glacier. "It is a feedback loop, a vicious cycle.". They want to drill down through almost half a mile of ice right at the point where the glacier goes afloat. Ice shelves act as “dams” that help keep land-bound glaciers in place. Ice draining from the gigantic Thwaites Glacier into the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica already accounts for about 4 per cent of global sea-level rise, and scientists say it is highly susceptible to climate change. The reason the scientists are so worried about Thwaites is because of that downward sloping submarine bed. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. It took more than a dozen flights by the US Antarctic programme's fleet of huge ski-equipped Hercules cargo planes just to get the scientists and some of their cargo to the project's main staging post in the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. They are almost half way down through the ice. The canyon, found near the Denman Glacier on the west of Antarctica, stretches more than 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) below sea level – almost as deep as the average depth of the ocean. Antarctic Glaciers Are Growing Unstable Above and Below Water. Thwaites glacier, which is part of the west Antarctic ice sheet, has lost an estimated 540bn tonnes of ice since the 1980s. There is no mistaking the epic forces at work here, slowly tearing, ripping and shattering the ice. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said. "What we are seeing here in the Antarctic is just another huge system responding in its own way.". It takes the science teams weeks just to get to their field camps. The Thwaites glacier is similar in size and shape to Idaho. In fact, virtually the whole bed is way below sea level. East Antarctica has the potential to reshape coastlines around the world through sea level rise, but scientists have long considered it more stable than its neighbor, West Antarctica. Scientists have discovered damage to two major Antarctic glaciers through satellite imagery, according to a new study. (British Antarctic Survey) (Supplied) © 2020 BBC. The distances are so great they needed to set up another camp halfway down the glacier so the planes could refuel. They have confirmed that the deep circumpolar warm water is getting under the glacier and have collected huge amounts of data. "When you think about it, we shouldn't be surprised by any of this," says Prof Vaughan as we are preparing to board the plane that will take us back to New Zealand and then home. It doesn't look like much, but this is a unique image - the first ever pictures from a frontier that is changing our world. Icefin has reached the point at which the warm ocean water meets the wall of ice at the front of the mighty Thwaites glacier - the point where this vast body of ice begins to melt. Icefin is under almost half a mile (600m) of ice, at the front of one the fastest-changing large glaciers in the world. But recent measurements show that the melting of the glacier … It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests. It is a bit like cutting slices from the sharp end of a wedge of cheese. At one stage, the entire season's research is on the point of being cancelled because storms stop all flights to West Antarctica from McMurdo for 17 consecutive days. They need 10,000 litres of water, which means melting 10 tonnes of snow. The Thwaites glacier alone contains enough ice to increase global sea levels by about 50cm. They say what is happening here is down to the complex interplay of climate, weather and ocean currents. If you increase that to a metre then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade. Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability. A file photo of the research vessel that charted the Thwaites Glacier in 2019. .css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}The images are murky at first. ‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica, 'Precipitous' fall in Antarctic sea ice since 2014 revealed. Photograph: Alex Mazur/International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. Some of it has been around for millions of years. Two ice-hardened ships docked alongside an ice cliff at the foot of the Antarctic Peninsula during the last Antarctic summer. Ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels are putting a lot more heat into the atmosphere and the oceans. Recent research found the rate of ice loss from five Antarctic glaciers had doubled in six years and was five times faster than in the 1990s. As the glacier retreats back, yet more ice is exposed. Top coverage. Snow on the ice runway delays my flight from New Zealand to McMurdo, the main US research station in Antarctica. It depends on the bedrock topography under the ice, and we don’t know it in great detail yet.”. The cause of the abrupt turnaround has not been established. Antarctica is so cold that its ice doesn’t melt, but I have read that it is losing ice anyway. A massive hole has been discovered in the Antarctic ’s so-called doomsday glacier suggesting it may be melting even faster than scientists have long feared. This increased uncertainty about future sea level rise but made the worst-case scenarios more likely. The scientists at the grounding zone camp plan to use hot water to drill their hole through the ice. The surface water in Antarctica is very cold, just above -2C degrees, the freezing point of salt water. It means the glacier gets thicker and thicker as you go inland. As the global climate heats up, some of the great ice sheets and glaciers in Antarctica are melting, a few of them rapidly. A warming climate is taking its toll on Greenland and Antarctica glaciers, melting them from above and below the surface. The scientists had told me that we had been camped on what is basically a small bay of ice protected by a horseshoe of raised ground. Glacier melting in Antarctica. As the planet continues to warm, some East Antarctic glaciers will follow suit. Suddenly a shadow looms above, an overhanging cliff of dirt-encrusted ice. Satellite data showed Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years. When the sea water is cold, this process is very slow, the ice pump usually just melts a few dozen centimetres a year - easily balanced by the new ice created by falling snow. Antarctic sea ice had been gradually increasing during 40 years of measurement and reached a record maximum in 2014, before falling markedly. When an ice cube is exposed to a heat source, like warm water or air, it melts. "The fear is these processes will just accelerate," she says. It blows huge drifts of snow into the camp, swamping the equipment, and all the work stops. Sediment sweeps past the camera as Icefin, a bright yellow remotely operated robot submarine, moves tentatively forward under the ice. Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean, according to NASA. Satellite imagery over Antarctica shows the rapid deterioration of two glaciers -- the most watched by climate scientists -- over recent decades, which could indicate rising sea levels globally. Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is reported to be melting quicker than previously thought - scientists are now trying to find out why. "They already have in the Arctic," says Prof Vaughan with a sigh. Researchers trying to understand what's happening have drilled down through seven-hundred metres of … A look at maps of the region's ice loss makes this clear, says Nick Holschuh, a geologist at Amherst College. The latest warning over Antarctica’s melting glaciers comes amid a record heatwave on the other side of the planet in the Arctic. An Antarctic island that was once hidden has been uncovered after melting glaciers caused by high temperatures revealed its shore. The lists include outlet glaciers, valley glaciers, cirque glaciers, tidewater glaciers and ice streams. Unlike the melting of ice sheets on land, sea ice melting does not raise sea levels but the loss of the reflective white ice leads to more of the sun’s heat being absorbed in the ocean, increasing the pace of heating. The project represents the biggest and most complex scientific field programme in Antarctic history. It wants to "smoosh out," explains Dr Riverman. All the delays mean there are just a few weeks of the Antarctic summer left before the weather starts to get really bad. That's not great. .css-8h1dth-Link{font-family:ReithSans,Helvetica,Arial,freesans,sans-serif;font-weight:700;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;color:#FFFFFF;}.css-8h1dth-Link:hover,.css-8h1dth-Link:focus{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}Read about our approach to external linking. By early January, the flubber is full and all the equipment is ready but then we get a warning that yet another storm is on its way. West Antarctica is the stormiest part of the world's stormiest continent. International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, A TO Z: Climate-related words and phrases explained. 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antarctica glacier melting news

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