Antarctic glaciers surge to ocean

By Martin Redfern
Rothera Research Station, Antarctica

UK scientists working in Antarctica have found some of the clearest evidence yet of instabilities in the ice of part of West Antarctica.

If the trend continues, they say, it could lead to a significant rise in global sea level.

The new evidence comes from a group of glaciers covering an area the size of Texas, in a remote and seldom visited part of West Antarctica.

The “rivers of ice” have surged sharply in speed towards the ocean.

David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, explained: “It has been called the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the reason for that is that this is the area where the bed beneath the ice sheet dips down steepest towards the interior.

“If there is a feedback mechanism to make the ice sheet unstable, it will be most unstable in this region.”

There is good reason to be concerned.

Satellite measurements have shown that three huge glaciers here have been speeding up for more than a decade.

The biggest of the glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, is causing the most concern.

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