Jun 15, 2019 | Updated: 11:54 AM EDT

West Antarctica 'Extraordinary Thinning' Requires 800M Measurements from Satellites For Research

May 20, 2019 11:06 AM EDT

Ice Shelf in Antarctica
(Photo : Jim Ross / NASA)

West Antarctica is currently experiencing the heavy hand of climate change. Glaciers are melting into the ocean and the increasing temperatures are speeding up the process.

According to reports, affected glaciers are becoming unstable throughout the continent. This means that the amount of snowfall could not cope with the melting and calving ice.

Led by Professor Andy Shepherd from the University of Leeds, a team of scientists from the UK Centre of Polar Observation and Modeling (CPOM) referred to 25 years' worth of data recorded by European space agency satellites together with a regional climate model to be able to determine the current state of the ice in Antarctica.

The team has reported that the patterns of glaciers melting have not been static. Glaciers across more than 24% of West Antarctica has become too thin since 1992. There are also fluctuations in snowfall that would cause small changes in glacier volume. However, the effects of climate change induced glacier instability that has been persistent for decades bears the most significant impact.

Professor Shepherd pointed out that ice losses from East and West Antarctica have contributed to 4.6 mm of the global sea level rise.

Over 800 million measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet height was used in the study. These were recorded by the satellites ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and CryoSat-2 between 1992 and 2017. The data on simulations of snowfall for the same period was supplied by the RACMO regional climate model.

Armed with this trove of data, the team was able to tease apart changes in ice sheets caused by weather from longer-term changes caused by climate. This means that there is a difference in the effects of the changes in the height of the ice sheet when there is a variation in the amount of snowfall while there are warmer ocean temperatures.

To separate these two factors, the researchers compared the surface height readings that were obtained in the field in contrast to changes in snowfall as simulated using the RACMO model. The researchers explained that the discrepancies between the two data sets are products of glacier imbalance such as climate change.

The study has proven that satellite data can be used to study large climate trends that are ongoing on the planet. Utilizing satellite data is most helpful for hostile environments such as the Antarctic and Arctic locations because ground levels could either be highly difficult or potentially deadly.

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