Environment

Fast-rising bedrock makes for surprisingly uplifting Antarctic news

The bedrock below Antarctica is rising surprisingly fast – and that could be enough to stabilize the ice sheet against collapse
The bedrock below Antarctica is rising surprisingly fast – and that could be enough to stabilize the ice sheet against collapse
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Lead author Terry Wilson with a GPS station used in the new study to determine the rate that the bedrock is rising
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Lead author Terry Wilson with a GPS station used in the new study to determine the rate that the bedrock is rising
Lead author Terry Wilson, on Franklin Island in Antarctica
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Lead author Terry Wilson, on Franklin Island in Antarctica
The bedrock below Antarctica is rising surprisingly fast – and that could be enough to stabilize the ice sheet against collapse
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The bedrock below Antarctica is rising surprisingly fast – and that could be enough to stabilize the ice sheet against collapse

News from Antarctica usually paints a grim picture of rapid ice loss and record-setting icebergs breaking loose, which is all feeding into a vicious cycle that speeds up further melting. But now, a new study reports some more uplifting findings: the Earth itself is rising at one of the fastest rates ever seen, and it may help stabilize the ice sheet.

According to a recent long-term study, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is one of the world's most vulnerable places to climate change, losing more than 175 billion tons of ice each year since 2012. Last July, an iceberg the size of Delaware snapped off and floated away, and it's feared that could destabilize the remaining ice shelf.

But another factor could help counteract that problem. According to a new study, the bedrock below Antarctica is rising much faster than expected, which could dramatically increase the stability of the ice sheet and slow further loss.

Lead author Terry Wilson, on Franklin Island in Antarctica
Lead author Terry Wilson, on Franklin Island in Antarctica

The team measured the uplift rate using six GPS stations dotted around the Amundsen Sea Embayment, and found that the rock was rising at up to 41 mm (1.6 in) every year. That's surprisingly fast, the researchers say, especially compared to the 20 to 30 mm (0.8 to 1.2 in) rise seen in other rapidly-rising places. The team estimated that this will pick up speed over the next century, accelerating to a rate 2.5 to 3.5 times faster. One area in particular is estimated to sit 8 m (26 ft) higher in 100 years than it does today.

"These results provide an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of the Earth's bedrock, along with the thinning of ice in Antarctica," says Valentina R. Barletta, lead author of the study. "The large amount of water stored in Antarctica has implications for the whole planet. The new findings raise the need to improve ice models to get a more precise picture of what will happen in the future."

So what's causing the rock to rise so fast? According to the scientists, the Earth's mantle below the region must be hotter and less viscous than previously thought. As the weight of the ice is removed, the rocky crust is bobbing back up as it "floats" on the fluid mantle.

This movement might help protect the ice sheet from further damage. Much of the ice loss is caused by relatively warm waters flowing underneath and eroding the ice from below, but the rising rock is pushing the sheet higher out of the water. Although previous models suggested this feedback loop could have a positive effect, it was thought that the process would take too long to really help.

"We previously thought uplift would occur over thousands of years at a very slow rate, not enough to have a stabilizing effect on the ice sheet," says Terry Wilson, lead author of the study. "Our results suggest the stabilizing effect may only take decades."

Of course, this rare piece of potential good news isn't a free pass to ignore climate change. While this may slow the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, other parts of the continent may not be so lucky, and any positive effects could easily be canceled out by rampant global warming.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: Ohio State University

11 comments
DFrancis
Could the warm waters be the cause of the mantel plume under that part of the Antarctic? If it was caused by global warming, wouldn't the waters elsewhere around the southern landmass also be warmer?
JustJim
The water is probably warmer due to the 90+ volcanoes around and under the western portion that never seem to be mentioned. Global warming, Hah!
Brooke
In the book "Full Rip 9.0" they mention that the coast of Oregon and Washington was rising for many decades prior to the major quake about 500 years ago. Sea level is rising a few mm per year, so this is a very big deal and can not continue, so will end with something very big.
Spont
Why is this good news? Wouldn't rising a rising mantle, sea floor displace water causing sea level rise?
ljaques
BUSTED! Everyone on the alarmist side of AGWK has been saying that ocean level rise had caused the large sheet to break off. Now we find that the land under Anarctica has been rising. Looking at the crack of said ice sheet (which started in 2013 BTW), it makes sense that the crack would open from the top if the ice sheet was being left at sea level while the land mass rose. Everything about global warming has a huge hidden cause like this, and they come out every few years. How can anyone possibly still believe any of it? There is no actual "retreat of the Western ice sheet" nor is there anything like "rampant global warming" happening.
Wolf0579
I sincerely hope all of you climate change deniers do not have kids or grandkids... you will be vilified by them... not to mention the bounty that may be placed on the oil corp. execs. Don't believe in global warming? Call the Mayor of Miami, and see if he can't change your mind.
Derek Howe
Wolf0579 - That's what annoys me most about you lefties, you tie together oil companies and cleaner air, with global warming. As a republican, I want cleaner air, and don't like OPEC. But I also don't buy into the whole "Climate change is man-made, and were all gonna die! slogan you've been using for years.
joeblake
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/melting-glaciers-are-wreaking-havoc-earths-crust-180960226/ In this 1 Sep 2016 article from the Smithsonian Institute it is posited that "Glacial melt may also be re-awakening dormant earthquakes and volcanoes. Large glaciers suppressed earthquakes, but according to a study published in 2008 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, as the Earth rebounds, the downward pressure on the plates is released and shaky pre-existing faults could reactivate". So whilst the lead article states "This movement might help protect the ice sheet from further damage", it might also be the case that this same movement may stretch the crust beyond its tensile limits and cause magma flow which could conceivably hasten the melting of glaciers - a case of "tear along the dotted line". As the second last paragraph of the head article says "Of course, this rare piece of potential good news isn't a free pass to ignore climate change."
Johannes
JustJim posits an incredibly illogical argument: the presence of volcanoes under Antarctica overrides the effect of >400 ppm and rising CO2 in the atmosphere. Jim, just ask any credible, non-partisan, science agency around the world and they'll tell you - climate change is real.
christopher
Newsflash - practically every bit of land around the entire globe is moving up or down - just because rock looks hard underfoot, does not mean it's just sitting still! Look at any mountain if you don't believe it. Which brings me to my point - much land is moving up or down 10x faster than any claimed change in sea level (Most of Australia's western coast, Antarctica, and more) - so exactly what are they measuring when the alarmist scream about sea levels, and more to the point: *where* are they measuring? Also keep in mind that all satellites are calibrated from a "fixed" point on land - so what are *they* measuring? The change in the sea, or the change in the fixed point they're calibrated to! Everything is relative.