Feeds

Antarctic glacier 'melted JUST as fast LONG before human carbon emissions'

Nothing new going on at Pine Island, insist British boffins

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Top boffins from the British Antarctic Survey say that the Pine Island Glacier - famous as a possible major cause of global-warming-powered sea level rises - was melting just as fast thousands of years ago as it is melting today.

“This paper [just published] is part of a wide range of international scientific efforts to understand the behaviour of this important glacier," explains Professor Mike Bentley, one of the leaders of a BAS effort to find out what's going on with the PIG.

"The results are clear in showing a remarkably abrupt thinning of the glacier 8000 years ago," adds the professor.

The Pine Island Glacier has been much studied over the last two decades, as the rate of ice melting into the sea there has accelerated during those years. Many scientists have theorised that this might be due to global warming caused by human burning of fossil fuels. It's been suggested that the PIG on its own might cause sea levels to rise by several centimetres this century (for background the seas rose about 17cm in the last century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects this to increase massively this century, though there's plenty of research to suggest otherwise.)

However it now appears that the recent rapid flow of the PIG into the sea may just be one of those things that happens from time to time, as it did 8,000 years ago. This is borne out by research from 2010, in which BAS boffins sent a robot submarine under the glacier's projecting ice shelf and found that its acceleration in recent times probably resulted from the fact that it has just finished grinding away a troublesome underwater reef which was slowing it down and causing ice to back up.

The new BAS research on the similar episode 8,000 years ago suggests that the resulting increased ice flow today at the PIG may well go on for some decades yet.

"Based on what we know, we can expect the rapid ice loss to continue for a long time yet," comments the BAS' Joanne Johnson.

It may not, though, or anyway not uninterruptedly. Previous BAS research which came out last month revealed that the most recent ice melt rates for the PIG are the "lowest ever recorded" there, having halved in just two years.

In any case it appears more and more likely that the rapid melting of the PIG's sea ice shelf from the early 1990s to 2010 would have happened anyway, regardless of humanity's carbon emissions. Hearteningly perhaps, the Antarctic sea ice area continues to increase overall, global warming or no.

The new BAS research is published in premier boffinry mag Science. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
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?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.