East Antarctica Harbors A Massive Lake In Its Ice Shelf

Posted: Dec 13 2016, 1:04pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 13 2016, 1:08pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

East Antarctica Harbors a Massive Lake in its Ice Shelf
Moulin inside the crater on the Roi Baudouin ice shelf. Credit: Sanne Bosteels
 

The buried lake indicates that Antartica is melting faster than thought

In Antarctica, the western part is considered highly vulnerable to climate change and it has always been a focus of intense scientific research due to its rapidly melting ice sheet. However, researchers have found that eastern Antarctica that has been thought far more stable is also feeling the effects of rising temperatures and its ice is melting faster than initially assumed.

The conclusion is based on the recent analysis of Roi Baudouin ice shelf in east Antarctica. In 2014, a huge, 2-mile-wide circle was spotted on this very large ice shelf during a routine flight over Antarctica. Initially, researchers suspected that this circle has been created by a meteorite that slammed into the Antarctica in 2004. A new research, however, reveals that it was originated from a different source. 

When a combined team of researchers from Netherlands, Belgium and Germany revisited the site to investigate what has been described as a crater in the ice shelf, they found a massive lake of water instead of circle, indicating that persistent melting has been going on over here. In the center, three moulins have also been found that were carrying the water deep down into the ice shelf, causing it to collapse under the surface.

“We have definitely proved that this is not a meteor site but that this crater is the remnant of a surface, or subsurface, meltwater lake.” Jan Lenaerts, lead author of the study and a researcher from Utrecht University in the Netherlands told New Scientist.

By combining climate models, satellite data and on field measurements, researchers concluded that strong winds, which blow over the ice sheet and ice shelves at the speed of 35 kilometers per hour, eroded away the surface snow and exposed the blue ice underneath it, which has been gradually melted by the direct sunlight exposure.

Despite the melting, the ice shelf is stable and is unlikely to collapse in near future. But if it breaks up, the glaciers will begin to slide down towards the sea and can accelerate sea level rise.

“If this region can get warmer in the future, the meltwater production will enhance a lot and we can only expect these features, these processes to be more present than they are now,” said Lenaerts. “With potential implications for hydrofacturing to happen and for ice shelf stability.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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