Antarctica is receiving mainstream reporting by the press over two recent discoveries on the frozen continent. Recently international researchers discovered one of the largest meteorites weighing almost 17 pounds. Additionally, satellites have detected a massive new colony of emperor penguins by the bird's telltale sign, guano.
Though interesting, these findings pale compared to the stunning retreat and fracturing at the highly vulnerable Pine Island Glacier (PIG) and Twaites Glacier in West Antarctica's Amundsen Sea Embayment. There, a perpetual hurricane of sea ice, wind, and currents combine to make the area the most forbidding place on Earth. A collapse of these dangerous glaciers would raise sea levels by four feet.
Satellite data confirm the collapse is coming soon, with the fracturing of the massive ice platform expected within a couple of years. Thwaites and Pigs' marine extensions will not raise sea levels as they already float in the water. Thwaites is the cork that holds back the land ice, though, and its demise will be catastrophic for global coastlines. With greenhouse gas emissions warming the oceans to record highs in 2022, damage to floating glacial and sea ice in Antarctica is inevitable; most believe it has already passed the tipping point.
West Antarctica has bitter cold air and sea surface temperatures. Unlike in Greenland, where atmospheric warming wreaks havoc at the surface of the massive ice sheet and creates vast meltwater systems of lakes and rivers that flow into a deep portal (moulin), cracking and widening the fissures in the ice as warm surface water descends to the island's bedrock. It is where meltwater lubricates the glacier enabling the ice sheet to slide on the bedrock while funneling that meltwater into the ocean, raising sea levels and possibly disrupting the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).
Antarctica is different as all the damage from global heating occurs to the marine extensions of Thwaites and PIG under the surface by deep water upwelling where ocean water is two to a few degrees warmer than the freezing point.
The water has been eroding the underbelly of glaciers for quite a while and has lifted the glacier enough that the warm water can travel to the grounding line. These ice-carved cavities fracture the ice from the bottom up toward the surface. These fractures were found to be between 1600 feet and 24 miles long. They are evidence of looming collapse (2013).
I follow the current fuckery that is occurring in the Amundsen Sea. One man on Twitter is laser-focused on the glaciers in what appears to be the beginning of the collapse of Pig and Thwaites.
Just recently, Kris Van Steenbergen discovered what appears to be ice collapsing over the channel between the PIG tongue and Thwaites's tongue. Open water can be seen. The channel extends to the Getz ice shelf as well. Three hundred miles. JFC!
This visualization shows ocean currents circulating Pine Island Bay and flowing under Pine Island Glacier. The visualization approaches the glacier, dives beneath the water, and views the ocean flows circulating beneath the floating ice. For more clarity, the surface of the ice sheet is exaggerated by 4x while the topography below sea level is exaggerated by 15x.
One final thought on repercussions from the unraveling of the Amundsen Sea Embayment, Marco Tedesco of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University points out that sea-level rise will not be the only harbinger of doom the "melting of the glacier and its ice shelf is worrisome because it will add freshwater to the Southern Ocean which will have "strong repercussions on currents and ocean circulation."
Hakai magazine has a compelling read on the intricacies of researching how we got it wrong through the decades.
Holland sees the planet in terms of a simple principle: “play with the atmosphere, expect change.”
Unusually warm ocean currents are melting the ice. Those currents are driven by shifting wind patterns: stronger winds displace cold surface water, allowing deep warmer water to rise up and pour over the continental shelf into the marine basin beneath the glaciers. The winds, in turn, respond to one thing: changes in air temperature. And those changes are caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
In short, Holland says, “the winds will change the ocean, the ocean will melt Antarctica—and the water is coming to visit you.” There is evidence that atmospheric changes can raise sea levels by several meters within the space of a century. But the systems are so complex that they’re hard to predict. We have apps on our phone to tell us the weather tomorrow, Holland remarks, but we’re a long way from having such apps for the ocean or ice sheets. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that predicting the “dynamic contribution” of ice sheets “remains the key uncertainty” in sea level rise projections.
For further reading:
The ice above the subglacial channel between PIG's tongue and Thwaites's tongue collapsing
The Thwaites' tongue goes when Iceberg B45 goes A/K/A, pinning point 9.
Somewhere on Thwaites Glacier is a fissure so deep that it threatens the world's coastlines.
Lowest sea ice on record powers ocean gyres as a heat source that is poised to take out W Antarctica
Iceberg B22 moves toward the open ocean, a verified source of volcanic activity upstream of P.I.G.
Ice is cracking further up from Thwaites, an unexpected source of heat damage from Pine Island.
Update on Thwaites Glacier: Iceberg B22a implodes.
The fingernails clinging onto Thwaites Glacier appear to be peeling off.
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