Evidence of Antarctic Glacier’s Tipping Point Confirmed for First Time – Risk of Rapid and Irreversible Retreat

Sebastian Rosier

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Dr. Sebastian Rosier at Pine Island Glacier in 2015. Credit: Dr. Sebastian Rosier

Researchers have actually verified for the very first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica might cross tipping points, causing a quick and irreparable retreat which would have considerable repercussions for international water level.

Pine Island Glacier is an area of fast-flowing ice draining pipes a location of West Antarctica roughly 2 thirds the size of the UK. The glacier is a specific cause for issue as it is losing more ice than any other glacier in Antarctica.

Currently, Pine Island Glacier together with its surrounding Thwaites glacier are accountable for about 10% of the continuous boost in international water level.

Scientists have actually argued for a long time that this area of Antarctica might reach a tipping point and go through a permanent retreat from which it might not recuperate. Such a retreat, as soon as began, might result in the collapse of the whole West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which includes enough ice to raise international water level by over 3 meters. 

While the basic possibility of such a tipping point within ice sheets has actually been raised previously, revealing that Pine Island Glacier has the possible to get in unsteady retreat is an extremely various concern.

Now, scientists from Northumbria University have actually revealed, for the very first time, that this is certainly the case.

Their findings are released in leading journal, The Cryosphere.

Pine Island Glacier Sebastian Rosier

Pine Island Glacier. Credit: Dr. Sebastian Rosier

Using a cutting edge ice circulation design established by Northumbria’s glaciology research study group, the group have actually established approaches that enable tipping points within ice sheets to be recognized.

For Pine Island Glacier, their research study reveals that the glacier has at least 3 unique tipping points. The 3rd and last occasion, set off by ocean temperature levels increasing by 1.2C, results in a permanent retreat of the whole glacier.

The scientists state that long-lasting warming and shoaling patterns in Circumpolar Deep Water, in mix with altering wind patterns in the Amundsen Sea, might expose Pine Island Glacier’s ice rack to warmer waters for longer time periods, making temperature level modifications of this magnitude significantly most likely.

The lead author of the research study, Dr. Sebastian Rosier, is a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences. He focuses on the modeling processes managing ice circulation in Antarctica with the objective of comprehending how the continent will add to future water level increase.

Dr. Rosier belongs to the University’s glaciology research study group, led by Professor Hilmar Gudmundsson, which is presently dealing with a significant £4million research study to examine if environment modification will drive the Antarctic Ice Sheet towards a tipping point.

Dr. Rosier described: “The capacity for this area to cross a tipping point has actually been raised in the past, however our research study is the very first to validate that Pine Island Glacier does certainly cross these crucial limits.

“Many various computer system simulations all over the world are trying to measure how an altering environment might impact the West Antarctic Ice Sheet however recognizing whether a duration of retreat in these designs is a tipping point is challenging.

“However, it is a crucial question and the methodology we use in this new study makes it much easier to identify potential future tipping points.”

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Professor of Glaciology and Extreme Environments dealt with Dr Rosier on the research study. He included: “The possibility of Pine Island Glacier going into an unsteady retreat has actually been raised prior to however this is the very first time that this possibility is carefully developed and measured.

“This is a significant forward action in our understanding of the characteristics of this location and I’m delighted that we have actually now had the ability to lastly supply firm responses to this essential concern. 

“But the findings of this study also concern me. Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in meters, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Reference: “The tipping points and early warning indicators for Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica” by Sebastian H. R. Rosier, Ronja Reese, Jonathan F. Donges, Jan De Rydt, G. Hilmar Gudmundsson and Ricarda Winkelmann, 25 March 2021, The Cryosphere.

Northumbria is quick ending up being the UK’s leading university for research study into Antarctic and severe environments. As well as the £4m tipping points research study, called TiPPACCs, Northumbria is likewise the only UK university to play a part in 2 jobs in the £20m International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration – the biggest joint task carried out by the UK and U.S.A. in Antarctica for more than 70 years. Northumbria is leading the PROPHET and GHC jobs within the Thwaites research study. This specific research study was moneyed through both TiPPACCs and PROPHET.

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