The fastest-melting glacier in the South Pole is still melting. But it is not just because of the global warming reasons that have been previously cited. Another possible explanation for why this giant ice stream in western Antarctica is collapsing is that there just happens to be a source of volcanic heat beneath the Pine Island Glacier.
A group of scientists from the University of Rhode Island discovered the noble gas Helium-3, indicating a volcanic heat source, underneath the Pine Island Glacier, according to The Daily Caller.
“When you find helium-3, it’s like a fingerprint for volcanism. We found that it is relatively abundant in the seawater at the Pine Island shelf,” chemical oceanographer Brice Loose said in a statement.
“The volcanic heat sources were found beneath the fastest moving and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier. It is losing mass the fastest.”
However, the scientists said in their study that this does not mean that volcanism is the main source of mass loss on the glacier. The volcanic heat source is just another factor to consider with ice sheet stability.
“The discovery of volcanoes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet means that there is an additional source of heat to melt the ice, lubricate its passage toward the sea, and add to the melting from warm ocean waters. It will be important to include this in our efforts to estimate whether the Antarctic ice sheet might become unstable and further increase sea level rise,” Professor Karen Heywood from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K., said.
But Loose insists that climate change is still the main factor: “Climate change is causing the bulk of glacial melt that we observe, and this newly discovered source of heat is having an as-yet-undetermined effect, because we do not know how this heat is distributed beneath the ice sheet.”
In a 2016 study, the British Antarctic Survey found that the Pine Island Glacier actually began warming in the 1940s during El Niño activity. And even when the global average surface temperature cooled, the glacier continued to melt.
“A significant implication of our findings is that once an ice sheet retreat is set in motion it can continue for decades, even if what started gets no worse,” NASA’s Bob Bindschadler said after observing data that showed 1944 was the warmest year on record until 1980.
Last month, a study found that the rate of the melting ice in the Antarctic has increased recently, “but critics said that work did not take into account modeling errors of the movement of the Earth beneath the ice sheets,” The Daily Caller reported.
Although scientists seem to agree about the melting of West Antarctica, NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally said that “East Antarctica is still gaining mass. That’s where we disagree.”
No matter what, there seems to be a lot of different accounts of why these glaciers are melting — more than just the typical global warming narrative.
If there is a volcano sitting underneath the Pine Island Glacier, I wonder how many other forces could be unknown contributing factors to the melting glaciers.
Researchers have made a shocking discovery under the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica — an active volcanic heat source, which they say has played a “critical role” in the movement and melting of the glacier. The scientists were looking at the role the ocean plays in causing glaciers to weaken when the discovery was made.
“We were looking to better understand the role of the ocean in melting the ice shelf,” Assistant Professor Brice Loose of Newport, R.I., a chemical oceanographer and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.
Loose added that the group was “sampling the water for five different noble gases, including helium and xenon,” when the discovery was made.
“We weren’t looking for volcanism, we were using these gases to trace other actions,” Loose said. “When we first started seeing high concentrations of helium-3, we thought we had a cluster of bad or suspicious data.”
University of East Anglia Professor Karen Heywood, who also worked on the study, said the presence of volcanoes just means there’s an additional source of heat to melt the ice.
“It will be important to include this in our efforts to estimate whether the Antarctic ice sheet might become unstable and further increase sea level rise,” Heywood said.
Last year, significant parts of the Pine Island Glacier separated from the main shelf. In February 2017, a piece of the glacier approximately 1 mile wide separated. And in September 2017, a chunk of ice nearly four times the size of Manhattan separated from the Pine Island Glacier, according to LiveScience.
The amount of ice going into the ocean is staggering, measured in gigatons, Loose said. A gigaton is equal to 1 billion metric tons.
It’s well understood that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet lies on top of a large or major volcanic rift system, but there has been no current magmatic activity, Loose noted. The last recorded activity was 2,200 years ago, but the volcanic heat discovered is new. Loose said it’s impossible to measure the normal indicators of the volcanism, including heat and smoke, because the rift is so far below the ice.
Despite the discovery of the volcanic heat, the researchers noted that climate change is still the driving force for melting the ice, something other studies have repeatedly backed up, Loose said.
“Climate change is causing the bulk of glacial melt that we observe, and this newly discovered source of heat is having an as-yet undetermined effect, because we do not know how this heat is distributed beneath the ice sheet,” Loose said.
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