Showing posts with label Antarctica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Antarctica. Show all posts

Monday, 25 September 2017

World's most successful environmental agreement has been in place for thirty years this month


CSIROscope, 15 September 2017:  

This weekend marks the 30th birthday of the Montreal Protocol, often dubbed the world’s most successful environmental agreement. The treaty, signed on September 16, 1987, is slowly but surely reversing the damage caused to the ozone layer by industrial gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Each year, during the southern spring, a hole appears in the ozone layer above Antarctica. This is due to the extremely cold temperatures in the winter stratosphere (above 10km altitude) that allow byproducts of CFCs and related gases to be converted into forms that destroy ozone when the sunlight returns in spring.

As ozone-destroying gases are phased out, the annual ozone hole is generally getting smaller – a rare success story for international environmentalism.

Back in 2012, our Saving the Ozone series marked the Montreal Protocol’s silver jubilee and reflected on its success. But how has the ozone hole fared in the five years since?

The Antarctic ozone hole has continued to appear each spring, as it has since the late 1970s. This is expected, as levels of the ozone-destroying halocarbon gases controlled by the Montreal Protocol are still relatively high. The figure below shows that concentrations of these human-made substances over Antarctica have fallen by 14% since their peak in about 2000.

Past and predicted levels of controlled gases in the Antarctic atmosphere, quoted as equivalent effective stratospheric chlorine (EESC) levels, a measure of their contribution to stratospheric ozone depletion. Paul Krummel/CSIRO, Author provided

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Memo To All Those Climate Science Conspiracy Theorists Out There: so you think all is well with the natural world, do you?


“On Feb. 13, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers were at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979.” [National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 23 March 2017]

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 10 November 2016, 
Rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf
                        
News.com.au, 2 May 2017:

Scientists monitoring a rift in an Antarctic ice shelf where an iceberg a quarter the size of Wales is poised to break off say the huge crack in the ice has spread.

Late last year a rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf grew suddenly by around 18km, leaving a vast iceberg more than 5,000 square kilometres "hanging by a thread".

Just 20km of ice connects the iceberg to the rest of the ice shelf, according to researchers from the Swansea University-led Midas project, which has been studying the stability of the Larsen C Ice Shelf for three years.

The main rift continued to grow early this year and is currently 180km long.

Now satellite data has revealed a second branch of the rift, some 15km long, which is moving towards the edge of the ice.

When the ice breaks off it is likely to lead to one of the biggest icebergs ever recorded.

Professor Adrian Luckman, of Swansea University College of Science and head of Project Midas, said: "While the previous rift tip has not advanced, a new branch of the rift has been initiated.

"This is approximately 10km behind the previous tip, heading towards the ice-front."

He said it was the first significant change to the rift since February, but added: "Although the rift length has been static for several months, it has been steadily widening, at rates in excess of a metre per day."

And he said: "When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 per cent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula."

The researchers warned the ice shelf will be less stable after the iceberg calves, and could follow the example of its neighbouring ice shelf Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 after a similar event.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Japan's government sanctioned whale killers returned to home port in March 2017



ABS-CBN, 31 March 2017:

TOKYO - Japan's whaling fleet returned on Friday from its months-long Antarctic hunt in the name of scientific research with a take of more than 300 minke whales, a hunt that prompted complaints from Australia.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan should halt Antarctic whaling and Japan suspended its hunt for one season to re-tool its whaling programme, including measures such as cutting the number of whales and species targeted.

It resumed hunting in the 2015-2016 season.

The final ships of the five-vessel whaling fleet returned to the southwestern port of Shimonoseki, having achieved their goal of 333 minke whales, the Fisheries Agency said…..

Japan intends to take nearly 4,000 whales over the next 12 years as part of its research program and has repeatedly said its ultimate goal is the resumption of commercial whaling.

Shimonoseki, a major whaling port, is in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's electoral district.

Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its culture, began what it calls "scientific whaling" in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect.

The meat ends up on store shelves, even though most Japanese no longer eat it.

Japan has shrugged off repeated international protests, including those from key ally the United States. In January, Australia said it was "deeply disappointed" that Japan had continued its hunt, just days after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had discussed it with Abe.

Anyone wishing to politely make their views on Japanese whaling in the South Ocean/Antarctica known to the Government of Japan can do so with these contact details:

PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968 JAPAN
Tel: +81-3-5253-2111
E-mail form: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html
Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html
Public Relations Fax: +81-3-3581-3883

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida
Foreign Affairs online comment page:

MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND FISHERIES

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry And Fisheries Hiroshi Moriyama
1-2-1 Ksumigaseki
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8907 JAPAN
Tel:+81-3-3502-8111
Fax: +81-3-3502-0794
E-mail form: https://www.contact.maff.go.jp/maff/form/114e.html
Website: http://www.maff.go.jp/e/index.html

EMBASSY OF JAPAN IN AUSTRALIA

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Australia Sumio Kusaka
Embassy of Japan in Australia
112 Empire Circuit, Yarralumla
Canberra A.C.T.2600
 Australia.
Tel:(61-2)6273-3244
Fax:(61-2)6273-1848
http://www.au.emb-japan.go.jp/

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Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Japanese whale killers have set sail for the Southern Ocean once more


The Japan Times, 18 November 2016:

KITAKYUSHU – Japanese vessels left Friday to conduct what Tokyo calls “research whaling” in the Antarctic Ocean through March.

Japan is planning to hunt 333 Antarctic minke whales in its second whaling expedition in the Antarctic Ocean since an international court ruled against the practice in 2014, the Fisheries Agency said.

Responding to the International Court of Justice ruling, Japan submitted to the International Whaling Commission a new whaling plan to cut catches of minke whales by two-thirds to 333.

In fiscal 2014 through March 2015, the country only conducted visual surveys but resumed whaling based on the new plan the following year.

Nonprofit organization Sea Shepherd Australia has expressed its intention to block Japan’s whaling, and the agency is planning to monitor the group’s activities from one of its patrol ships.

Two whaling vessels — the 724-ton Yushin Maru and 747-ton Yushin Maru No. 2 — left the port in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Friday morning. They will soon join two other whaling ships and the 8,145-ton mother ship Nisshin Maru to form a fleet with 185 crew members in total.

YUSHIN MARU NO.2
MO: 9278040
MMSI: 432364000
Call Sign: JPPV
Flag: Japan [JP]
AIS Vessel Type: Fishing
Gross Tonnage: 747
Deadweight: 732 t
Length Overall x Breadth Extreme: 69.61m × 10.8m
Year Built: 2002
Status: Active

FACTORY SHIP NISSHIN MARU
MO: 8705292
MMSI: 431683000
Call Sign: JJCJ
Flag: Japan [JP]
AIS Vessel Type: Fishing
Gross Tonnage: 8145
Deadweight: 5555 t
Length Overall x Breadth Extreme: 129.58m × 19.4m
Year Built: 1987
Status: Active

YUSHIN MARU
IMO: 9197181
MMSI: 431439000
Call Sign: JLZS
Flag: Japan [JP]
AIS Vessel Type: Fishing
Gross Tonnage: 720
Deadweight: 642 t
Length Overall x Breadth Extreme: 69.61m × 10.4m
Year Built: 1998
Status: Active

Sunday, 6 November 2016

At the Meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart Australia it was unanimously agreed to create Ross Sea marine protected area


CCAMLR to create world's largest Marine Protected Area
The world's experts on Antarctic marine conservation have agreed to establish a marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica's Ross Sea.
This week at the Meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Australia, all Member countries have agreed to a joint USA/New Zealand proposal to establish a 1.55 million km2area of the Ross Sea with special protection from human activities.
This new MPA, to come into force in December 2017, will limit, or entirely prohibit, certain activities in order to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives. Seventy-two percent of the MPA will be a 'no-take' zone, which forbids all fishing, while other sections will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.
CCAMLR Executive Secretary, Andrew Wright, is excited by this achievement and acknowledges that the decision has been several years in the making.
"This has been an incredibly complex negotiation which has required a number of Member countries bringing their hopes and concerns to the table at six annual CCAMLR meetings as well as at intersessional workshops.
"A number of details regarding the MPA are yet to be finalised but the establishment of the protected zone is in no doubt and we are incredibly proud to have reached this point," said Mr Wright.
CCAMLR's Scientific Committee first endorsed the scientific basis for proposals for the Ross Sea region put forward by the USA and New Zealand in 2011. It invited the Commission to consider the proposals and provide guidance on how they could be progressed. Each year from 2012 to 2015 the proposal was refined in terms of the scientific data to support the proposal as well as the specific details such as exact location of the boundaries of the MPA. Details of implementation of the MPA will be negotiated through the development of a specific monitoring and assessment plan. The delegations of New Zealand and the USA will facilitate this process.
This year's decision to establish a Ross Sea MPA follows CCAMLR's establishment, in 2009, of the world’s first high-seas MPA, the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA, a region covering 94 000 km2 in the south Atlantic.
"This decision represents an almost unprecedented level of international cooperation regarding a large marine ecosystem comprising important benthic and pelagic habitats," said Mr Wright.
"It has been well worth the wait because there is now agreement among all Members that this is the right thing to do and they will all work towards the MPA's successful implementation," he said.
MPAs aim to provide protection to marine species, biodiversity, habitat, foraging and nursery areas, as well as to preserve historical and cultural sites. MPAs can assist in rebuilding fish stocks, supporting ecosystem processes, monitoring ecosystem change and sustaining biological diversity.
Areas closed to fishing, or in which fishing activities are restricted, can be used by scientists to compare with areas that are open to fishing. This enables scientists to research the relative impacts of fishing and other changes, such as those arising from climate change. This can help our understanding of the range of variables affecting the overall status and health of marine ecosystems.
ABC News, 28 October 2016:
A hard-won agreement to establish the first large-scale marine park in international waters south of Australia has been described as a "turning point" for conservation, however an expiry date of 35 years concerns the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Today, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart announced agreement had been reached between the member nations over the establishment of the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, which will cover more than one and a half million square kilometres in Antarctica.
The agreement follows years of wrangling and failure to reach consensus, with Russia proving to be a stumbling block.
The area, which has been described as "the size of France, Germany and Spain combined", is revered for its biodiversity.
"Today's agreement is a turning point for the protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean," Chris Johnson, WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager, said.
"It is home to one third of the world's Adélie penguins, one quarter of all emperor penguins, one third of all Antarctic petrels, and over half of all South Pacific Weddell seals."
Mr Johnson said while the announcement was "good news", the expiration of the zone after 35 years was a cause for concern…..

Friday, 4 November 2016

Australia and New Zealand successful in gaining IWC review of process by which 'scientific' slaughter of Antarctic whales is allowed to continue



On 28 October 2016 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) considered a draft resolution by Australia and New Zealand seeking to improve the review process for whaling under special permit. 

Special permits being the mechanism used by the Government of Japan to continue its annual slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean for the commercial benefit of a domestic niche market for whale meat for human consumption and for the Japanese pet food industry.

The resolution was passed.

IWC, 27 October 2016:

Governments on all sides of the scientific whaling debate highlighted the positive and constructive spirit of negotiations on a Resolution on Improving the Review Process for Whaling under Special Permit, but ultimately agreement could not be reached and the Resolution was put to a vote which adopted the Resolution with 34 yes votes, 17 no votes and 10 abstentions.  Amongst the measures included is the establishment of a new Commission Working Group to consider Scientific Committee reports and recommendations on this issue.


“Now, therefore the Commission:
1. Agrees to establish a Standing Working Group (“the Working Group”), in accordance with Article III.4 of the Convention. The Working Group will be appointed by the Bureau on the basis of nominations from Contracting Governments, to consider the reports and recommendations of the Scientific Committee with respect to all new, ongoing and completed special permit programmes and report to the Commission, in accordance with the Terms of Reference contained in the Appendix to this resolution.
2. Agrees that the discussion of special permit programmes be afforded sufficient priority and time allocation to allow for adequate review at both Commission and Scientific Committee meetings;
3. In order to facilitate the Commission’s timely and meaningful consideration of new, ongoing and completed special permit programmes, Requests Contracting Governments to submit proposals for new special permit programmes, and review documentation for ongoing and completed special permit programmes, at least six months before the Scientific Committee meeting held in the same year as a Commission meeting (see the indicative process set out in paragraph 9 of the Appendix);
4. In order to facilitate the Scientific Committee’s review of new, ongoing and completed special permit programmes, Requests Contracting Governments to provide members of the Scientific Committee unrestricted and continuing access to all data collected under special permit programmes that are:
a. used in the development of new programmes; or
b. included in ongoing or final programme reviews. Data made available in accordance with this request shall be used only for the purposes of evaluation and review of special permit programmes.
5. Instructs the Scientific Committee to inform the Commission as to whether Scientific Committee members had unrestricted and continuing access to data collected under special permit programmes, and analyses thereof;
6. Further instructs the Scientific Committee to provide its evaluation of proposals to the Commission in the same year as a Commission meeting (regardless of when the Scientific Committee’s review commences), and to make necessary revisions to its procedures for reviewing special permit programmes, including Annex P, to incorporate the expectation that Contracting Governments will schedule any special permit programmes in accordance with the process outlined in paragraph 3;
7. Agrees that the Commission will consider the reports of the Scientific Committee and of the Working Group at the first Commission meeting after the Scientific Committee has reviewed the new, ongoing or completed special permit programme in question and, taking into account those reports, the Commission will: a. form its own view regarding:
i. whether the review process has adequately followed the instructions set out in Annex P and any additional instructions provided by the Commission ;
ii. whether the elements of a proposed special permit programme, or the results reported from an ongoing or completed special permit programme, have been adequately demonstrated to meet the criteria set out in the relevant terms of reference in Annex P, and any additional criteria elaborated by the Commission; and
iii. any other relevant aspect of the new, ongoing or completed special permit programme and review in question;
b. provide any recommendations or advice it considers appropriate to the responsible Contracting Government regarding any aspect of the new, ongoing or completed special permit programme, including affirming or modifying any proposed recommendations or advice proposed by the Scientific Committee.
c. provide any direction it considers appropriate to the Scientific Committee.
d. make public a summary of the Commission’s conclusions in this respect, by way of publication on the Commission’s website, within 7 days of the end of the Commission meeting.”

Background

The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March 2016: 

Tokyo: Japan's whaling fleet returned on Thursday from its Antarctic hunt after a year-long suspension with a take of more than 300 whales, including pregnant females.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting it to call off its hunt that season, although it said at the time it intended to resume later.
Japan then amended its plan for the next season to cut the number of minke whales it aimed to take by two-thirds from previous hunts.
Its fleet set out in December despite international criticism, including from important ally the United States.
The final ships of the four-vessel whaling fleet returned to Shimonoseki in southwestern Japan on Thursday, having achieved the goal of 333 minke whales, the Fisheries Agency said.
Of these, 103 were males and 230 were females, with 90 per cent of the mature females pregnant.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Japan admits to mass slaughter of pregnant minke whales during Antarctic breeding season



Tokyo: Japan's whaling fleet returned on Thursday from its Antarctic hunt after a year-long suspension with a take of more than 300 whales, including pregnant females.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting it to call off its hunt that season, although it said at the time it intended to resume later.
Japan then amended its plan for the next season to cut the number of minke whales it aimed to take by two-thirds from previous hunts.
Its fleet set out in December despite international criticism, including from important ally the United States.
The final ships of the four-vessel whaling fleet returned to Shimonoseki in southwestern Japan on Thursday, having achieved the goal of 333 minke whales, the Fisheries Agency said.
Of these, 103 were males and 230 were females, with 90 per cent of the mature females pregnant.

National Geographic, 25 March 2016:

Flouting an international ruling, Japan resumed minke whaling for ‘scientific purposes’ during breeding season….

After the international court ruling, Japan halted its whaling activities briefly, but then resolved to begin whaling again in the  2015-2016 season. It revised its program to be more scientific, and it lowered its quota of whales by about two-thirds.

Still, many scientists derided the new plan, and the International Whaling Commission could not reach a consensus on whether it met requirements. And while the quota reduction looked good on paper, it didn’t make much of a difference in practice, according to Astrid Fuchs, the whaling program manager for the nonprofit organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation. In previous years, Japan has killed between 200-400 Antarctic minke whales each year. This year’s 333 isn’t out of the ordinary.

Also part of its plan: targeting females. Japan maintains that it must capture and kill juvenile and adult females in order to determine the age at which minke whales reach sexual maturity. Japan wants to use this data in its quest to demonstrate the minke whale population is healthy enough for regular whaling, Fuchs said.

And because it’s breeding time in the southern seas, 90 percent of the females Japanese whalers killed were pregnant.

The expedition was part of a 12-year plan to kill nearly 4,000 whales in Antarctic waters. The conservation status of Antarctic minke whales is unclear, but some analyses have found a 60 percent reduction when comparing the 1978–91 period and the 1991–2004 period, which would qualify it for endangered status.

Anyone wishing to politely make their views on Japanese whaling in the South Ocean/Antarctica known to the Government of Japan can do so with these contact details:

PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968 JAPAN
Tel: +81-3-5253-2111
E-mail form: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html
Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html
Public Relations Fax: +81-3-3581-3883

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida
Foreign Affairs online comment page:

MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND FISHERIES

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry And Fisheries Hiroshi Moriyama
1-2-1 Ksumigaseki
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8907 JAPAN
Tel:+81-3-3502-8111
Fax: +81-3-3502-0794
E-mail form: https://www.contact.maff.go.jp/maff/form/114e.html
Website: http://www.maff.go.jp/e/index.html

EMBASSY OF JAPAN IN AUSTRALIA

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Australia Sumio Kusaka
Embassy of Japan in Australia
112 Empire Circuit, Yarralumla
Canberra A.C.T.2600
 Australia.
Tel:(61-2)6273-3244
Fax:(61-2)6273-1848
http://www.au.emb-japan.go.jp/

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Lesson For Japan: Southern Ocean Research Partnership proves non-lethal whale research both possible and productive


A satellite-tagged minke whale in the Antarctic. 
Picture: ARI FRIEDLAENDER/AUSTRALIAN ANTARCTIC DIVISION
The Herald Sun 16 August 2014


Department of the Environment Australian Antarctic Division 13 August 2014:

The extraordinary feeding behaviour of Antarctic minke whales has been recorded for the first time, showing the mammals lunge feeding up to 100 times per hour under the sea ice, gorging on Antarctic krill.

Scientists from the United States and Australia attached multi-sensor suction cup satellite tags to minke whales off the west Antarctic Peninsula last year to study their foraging patterns.

Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist, Dr Nick Gales, said the tags measured the whales’ orientation, depth and acceleration.
“Prior to this work the movements and diving behaviour of these whales was something of a mystery as no tags had been deployed on the species,” Dr Gales said.

“We found that the minkes were swimming just beneath the sea ice, feeding at incredibly high rates, taking mouthfuls of krill every 30 seconds.

“This is very different from other whale behaviour, for example the gigantic blue whales lunge up to four times during a dive and smaller humpbacks lunge up to 12 times.”

The study also found the minkes’ size and manoeuvrability allows them to take advantage of the sea ice habitat.
“The minke’s preferred prey, Antarctic krill, aggregate under the sea ice and attract the whales to the area, leading to these feeding frenzies,” Dr Gales said.

“But any future change in sea ice has the potential to impact on the minke whales’ foraging habits.”

The study is part of the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership, which is focused on non-lethal research and is endorsed by the International Whaling Commission.

“It’s clear from the insight we have gained into the whales’ behaviour through this work, that you simply don’t have to kill the whales to study them,” Dr Gales said.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Background

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership was established in 2009 to enhance cetacean conservation and the delivery of non-lethal whale research to the International Whaling Commission (IWC). SORP partners include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. The Partnership research focus is on post-exploitation whale population structure, health and status; and changing atmosphere and oceans: Southern Ocean whales and their ecosystems.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

NASA: West Antarctica glacier melt "passed the point of no return"


U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Media Release 12 May 2014:


A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.
The study presents multiple lines of evidence, incorporating 40 years of observations that indicate the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica "have passed the point of no return," according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said these findings will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.
"This sector will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come," Rignot said. "A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea."
Three major lines of evidence point to the glaciers' eventual demise: the changes in their flow speeds, how much of each glacier floats on seawater, and the slope of the terrain they are flowing over and its depth below sea level. In a paper in April, Rignot’s research group discussed the steadily increasing flow speeds of these glaciers over the past 40 years. This new study examines the other two lines of evidence.
The glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, with their leading edges afloat on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater.
Just as a grounded boat can float again on shallow water if it is made lighter, a glacier can float over an area where it used to be grounded if it becomes lighter, which it does by melting or by the thinning effects of the glacier stretching out. The Antarctic glaciers studied by Rignot's group have thinned so much they are now floating above places where they used to sit solidly on land, which means their grounding lines are retreating inland.
"The grounding line is buried under a thousand or more meters of ice, so it is incredibly challenging for a human observer on the ice sheet surface to figure out exactly where the transition is," Rignot said. “This analysis is best done using satellite techniques."
The team used radar observations captured between 1992 and 2011 by the European Earth Remote Sensing (ERS-1 and -2) satellites to map the grounding lines' retreat inland. The satellites use a technique called radar interferometry, which enables scientists to measure very precisely -- within less than a quarter of an inch -- how much Earth's surface is moving. Glaciers move horizontally as they flow downstream, but their floating portions also rise and fall vertically with changes in the tides. Rignot and his team mapped how far inland these vertical motions extend to locate the grounding lines.
The accelerating flow speeds and retreating grounding lines reinforce each other. As glaciers flow faster, they stretch out and thin, which reduces their weight and lifts them farther off the bedrock. As the grounding line retreats and more of the glacier becomes waterborne, there's less resistance underneath, so the flow accelerates.
Slowing or stopping these changes requires pinning points -- bumps or hills rising from the glacier bed that snag the ice from underneath. To locate these points, researchers produced a more accurate map of bed elevation that combines ice velocity data from ERS-1 and -2 and ice thickness data from NASA's Operation IceBridge mission and other airborne campaigns. The results confirm no pinning points are present upstream of the present grounding lines in five of the six glaciers. Only Haynes Glacier has major bedrock obstructions upstream, but it drains a small sector and is retreating as rapidly as the other glaciers.
The bedrock topography is another key to the fate of the ice in this basin. All the glacier beds slope deeper below sea level as they extend farther inland. As the glaciers retreat, they cannot escape the reach of the ocean, and the warm water will keep melting them even more rapidly.
The accelerating flow rates, lack of pinning points and sloping bedrock all point to one conclusion, Rignot said.
"The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable," he said. "The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable."
Because of the importance of this part of West Antarctica, NASA's Operation IceBridge will continue to monitor its evolution closely during this year's Antarctica deployment, which begins in October. IceBridge uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of science instruments ever assembled to characterize changes in thickness of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice.
For additional images and video related to this new finding, visit: