Pine Island Glacier’s demise is ‘irreversible,’ researchers believe

BY newsdesk  January 15, 2014 at 2:32 PM EDT
Photo by Penn State University/Flickr

Scientists believe that the Pine Island Glacier in Antartica is melting irreversibly. Photo by Penn State University/Flickr

Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier covers approximately 9,942 square miles, roughly two-thirds of the U.K., and drains 20 percent of all ice flowing west of the continent. Based on three different models, British, French and Chinese scientists have concluded that the massive chunk of ice is melting irreversibly.

On Sunday, scientists told the journal Nature Climate Change that the grounding line — which separates the grounded ice sheet from the floating ice shelf — is retreating at a quicker pace. This is likely caused by warm ocean bottom waters, which are eroding the ice shelf at the head of the glacier.

The retreat of the grounding line is dangerous because “the glacier is susceptible to the marine ice-sheet instability mechanism.” This means the glacier may be prone to collapse, triggering a rapid melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Scientists’ models estimate that over the next 20 years the melting of the glacier will lead to sea-levels rising 3.5 to 10 mm or 0.14-0.39 in.