Gravity And Earth Structure Could Slow Down Melting Of Antarctic Ice

Posted: Nov 11 2015, 3:11am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News


Gravity and Earth Structure Could Slow Down Melting of Antarctic Ice
Photo Credit: Getty Images

New study suggests the two geophysical factors can help delay Antarctic ice sheet's retreat

Melting of Antarctic ice sheet is imminent due to climate change, as reported by many recent studies.

But a new research suggests that this anticipated melting can be delayed or slowed down by two factors: the surprisingly powerful gravitational pull created by immense ice sheet and the fluid nature of Earth’s interior beneath bedrock on which ice sheet rests upon. 

Current computer generated models estimates either carbon dioxide emissions or global sea level, which will eventually rise as a result of drastic melting of Antarctic ice sheet. And above mentioned two factors are mostly overlooked. 

“The fate of the polar ice sheets in a warming world is a major concern for policy makers and attention is rightly focused on the importance of restraining CO2 emissions and preparing for rising sea levels,” said Natalya Gomez, lead author and assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University in Montreal.

“But our study shows that for Antarctica, in particular, computer models also need to take into account how gravitational effects and variations in Earth structure could affect the pace of future ice-sheet loss.”

A layman thinks that gravity is just a force that keeps our feet on the ground but it actually does more than that. A large body such as massive sheet of ice applies gravitational pull on other bodies even on surrounding water.

As the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, its reduced mass will decrease the gravitational pull to such an extent that it will sharply lower the sea level near ice and eventually the pace of retreat of ice sheet.

The other important variable is Earth’s structure. When ice sheet retreats, the Earth beneath it breaks free the load of ice and rebounds upward. With this rebound, elasticity effect happens right away. Moreover, mantle underneath the solid Earth starts to flow like a liquid, a vicious process that continues for hundreds to thousands of years. 

“Our simulations show that when we assume a structure for the Earth’s interior that resembles the structure underneath the West Antarctic, the Earth’s surface rebounds higher and more quickly near the edge of the retreating ice sheet. This makes the water along that edge shallower, which slows the retreat of ice sheet.” Co-author David Holland from New York University said.

However, no one can deny the importance of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the crucial factor in the melting of region’s ice. Curbing carbon dioxide emissions will help other factors to slow down the thawing process.

“The lower the levels of CO2 in atmosphere, the more the geophysical factors will be able to help stem the ice’s retreat,” Gomez said. “The greater the emissions, the more the geophysical forces risk being overwhelmed by the strength of the warming.”

Source: McGill University

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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