Some Antarctic Glaciers Are Melting Faster Than We Thought, But Weirdly That Could Be Good News

This is one of a set of GPS stations that revealed part of West Antarctica is rising four times faster than expected. David Saddler

This rapid rebound distorted our ice loss estimates. In such a remote region, geologists have relied heavily on satellite measurements of gravity to estimate ice changes, since less ice means slightly less gravitational pull.

After correcting for the additional gravity produced by the rising crust, the team realized this unexpected factor has been partially disguising the amount of ice lost.

All this might seem like another round of grim news we are used to hearing from Antarctica, but this is more complex. The ASE has been melting faster than almost anywhere else because so much of its ice rests on rock below sea level. Water flowing in from the ocean melts glaciers from below and lubricates their flow, greatly hastening more melting.

If the crust rebounds enough, it will block incoming sea water and dramatically slow melting – something previously not anticipated for centuries.

It's too early to tell if these crustal effects will prevent the collapse of the ASE ice sheet, or how applicable this is to other locations, but it's at least possible that future sea level rise will be less catastrophic than we thought.

Coincidentally, just last week a separate team revealed evidence of ocean sediments and fish remains inland of the Weddell Sea in Nature. Their explanation is that at some time in the last 35,000 years the region experienced a similar surprisingly rapid rebound after partial melting of local ice. The Weddell Sea and ASE are on opposite sides of the Antarctic Peninsula.

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