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Tags: antartci | glacier | pine island | thwaites

Seabed Volcanoes Can Influence West Antarctic Glacier Melts

Seabed Volcanoes Can Influence West Antarctic Glacier Melts

Exemplar of a terra seabed crater; a lava crater ejected into piles varied and jagged black rocks. These formations are closely arranged on the beach, tilting toward the sea. (Maocheng/Dreamstime)

Larry Bell By Monday, 06 August 2018 09:51 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

New evidence now updates and confirms a column I wrote in June 2014 that some or all of the highly publicized melting of western coastal Antarctic glaciers may be caused by seabed volcanoes rather than having much or anything to do with climate change.

An article published in June 22 edition of the journal Nature Communications reports that an international team of scientists tracing a chemical signature of helium in the seawater discovered that contemporary volcanic heat is causing observed melting beneath the massive west Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS.)

Participating organizations included the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, East Anglia and Southampton universities in the UK Arizona State University, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the British Antarctic Survey.

Whereas volcanic activity was first noted in 2007, and verified its existence again in 2014 using radar techniques to examine underwater flows, this latest study has provided the first geochemical evidence of such influence. Its research focus was to investigate observed rapid melting of a Pine Island Glacier in order to better understand current and future contributions to sea level increases.

Pine Island melting first attracted major public attention in 2014 when a large iceberg which broke loose caused media-trumpeted speculation that this "race to the sea" heralded the beginning of the end for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Volcanic activity is also very likely increasing the melting pace of the adjacent Thwaites Glacier. Five years ago, researchers at University of Texas Institute for Geophysics found the resulting heat was much more widely and less evenly distributed than had previously been believed, with some areas considerably hotter than others.

UTA lead researcher David Schroeder commented in a press release at that time, "The combination of variable sub-glacial geothermal heat flow and the interacting sub-glacial water system could threaten the stability of Thwaites Glacier in ways that we never before imagined."

Thwaites, one of the world’s largest and most rapidly retreating glaciers, drains an area roughly the size of the state of Florida. The melting rate appears to have doubled since the mid-1990s, leading some scientists to conjecture that a Thwaites collapse within the next few decades or centuries could significantly affect global sea levels.

Any modeling predictions regarding when or how much sea levels will be impacted by WAIS melting remain highly speculative. As the earlier UTA report coauthor Don Blankenship observed, "It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine. And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible."

A satellite study reported in a 2000 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research determined that the dynamics of ice thinning over the entire Pine Island drainage basin which amounted to about 1.6 meters per year between 1992 and 1999 was most likely driven by phenomena operating on time scales of hundreds to thousands of years, not by 20th century warming.

There’s nothing new about concern regarding glacial melting causing sea level rise, a natural phenomenon that has been occurring over eons. After all, sea levels rapidly rose by as much as 400 feet when world ice sheets melted at the end of the last Ice Age about 13,000 years ago.

As for dramatic shifts in the WAIS, there’s nothing new about that either. A major study released in 2014 by the British Antarctic Survey last year found that the Pine Island glacier thinned just as rapidly 8,000 years ago as it has in recent times, yet subsequently recovered.

Another BAS study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reported in 2014 that WAIS thinning is "within the natural range of climate variability” over the past 300 years. It also noted that "More dramatic isotopic warming (and cooling) trends occurred in the mid-19th and 18th centuries."

Geological evidence suggests that the Antarctic coastline which is now covered with ice was ice-free only 6,000 years ago. Much more recently, in 1513, a Turkish sea captain named Piri Reis was able to chart open coastline waters.

A 1922 article which appeared in a South Australia newspaper prudently observed, "We are now, it is believed, slowly approaching another warm epoch, when, if it becomes universal, affecting both hemispheres together, the ice will again melt, and the sea rise to its ancient level, submerging an enormous portion of what is now dry and thickly populated land."

Without doubt, the global climate has been gradually warming in fits and starts ever since the "little ice age" in the mid-19th century. This condition may very well continue such time as the next ice age intervenes to stop it.

Meanwhile, glaciers will come and go, as always, with no help or permission from us.

Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Without doubt, the global climate has been gradually warming in fits and starts ever since the "little ice ended" in the mid-19th century. This condition may very well continue such time as the next ice age intervenes to stop it.
antartci, glacier, pine island, thwaites
Monday, 06 August 2018 09:51 AM
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