The researchers used data from satellites over the past 25 years and recreated a detailed map of the melting ice shelves of Antarctica. It turned out that since 1994, glaciers have lost about 4 thousand gigatons – such an amount of meltwater can fill the Grand Canyon. The European Space Agency dataset confirms this process.
However, scientists have discovered for the first time that not only global warming is to blame for the melting of glaciers, but also warm ocean water, which is destroying the lower part of the glaciers. Researchers can track where the meltwater flows to predict how much of the shelf will erode next.
Some of the freshwater ends up in the water around Antarctica and will affect water circulation in much of the planet. This could have consequences for the climate far beyond the polar south.
Another new aspect of the study is that scientists can now trace exactly where the ice is melting at the depth of the plume. Some of these floating platforms (the largest is the size of France) extend several hundred meters above the ocean surface.
From satellites, researchers can determine if melting is occurring near the thinnest sections of the shelf, at the front or deep in the glacier. “This kind of information can tell us a lot about the processes of melting, about how they occur, or what effect meltwater can have on the shelf,” the scientists note.