Feeds

Hidden Grand Canyon-sized ICE-HOLE hastens Antarctic melt

Huge chasm explains rapidly thinning Western ice sheets

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Vid A geoboffin and glacioboffin team have discovered a Grand-Canyon-sized chasm hidden under the ice in West Antarctica that they believe is helping the ice to melt.

The University of Aberdeen and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists returned to the Ferrigno Ice Stream, a region of the frozen continent only visited once before in 1961, and found a one-mile (1.6km) deep chasm under the ice.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing ice faster than any other region of the continent, with some glaciers shrinking by more than one metre a year, so boffins have figured that something else other than global warming (or whatever is causing the ice to melt) is at work.

Ice penetrating radar is towed across Ferrigno Ice Stream

WHEEEEEEE! Credit: Rob Bingham

To find out what that something is, the team went out on the ice in 2010 and dragged an ice-penetrating radar system behind a snowmobile for 1,500 miles (2,414km).

"What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape," said Dr Robert Bingham, a glaciologist at the uni.

“If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the Grand Canyon.

"What’s particularly important is that this spectacular valley aligns perfectly with the recordings of ice-surface lowering and ice loss that we have witnessed with satellite observations over this area for the last twenty years," he added.

The massive trough, scoured out by ancient ice moving across the continent, allows warmer water from the Bellingshausen Sea to flow under it, thereby moving the warmth inland and thinning the ice along the way.

The boffins think that the rift they've discovered could be part of a system of valleys under the sheet that are all doing their bit to speed up the melting of the ice.

Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey leads Ice2sea, an EU-funded research programme to improve projections of global and regional sea-level, and he reckons understanding the rift system could help figure out how much water the ice is likely to dump into the ocean.

"Thinning ice in West Antarctica is currently contributing nearly 10 per cent of global sea level rise," he said. "It’s important to understand this hot spot of change so we can make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise."

The team's research was published in this week's Nature. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.