The glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula are on the run

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Like many places, the Antarctic Peninsula is a victim of rising temperatures. However, when scientists used radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission obtained between 2014 and 2021, they were surprised to discover how quickly 105 glaciers flowed on the West Coast in the summer months.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost and warmest region of Antarctica, it has a ridge 1000 km long, it is home to a rich marine ecosystem. The peninsula contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by about 7 cm and is changing rapidly in response to the climate crisis. Along the western coast of the peninsula, more than 100 major glaciers drain ice from the ice sheet directly into the Southern Ocean.

A team of scientists from the University of Leeds, UK, and Utrecht University, the Netherlands, processed more than 10,000 Copernicus Sentinel 1 radar images to measure the speed of 105 glaciers on the peninsula’s west coast over a six-year period, from 2014 to 2021. The paper, published today in Nature Geoscience, describes how They found that glaciers with seasonal changes actually flow 22% faster in summer than in winter, with all glaciers in this region moving 12% faster. This new discovery of faster summer ice speeds has not been seen before in this region of Antarctica.

Climate models of snow melt and ocean temperature were used to investigate the cause of this summer velocity. The data showed that glacier acceleration occurs at the same time as there are waters from melting ice and warmer ocean temperatures in summer, showing how glaciers in this region of Antarctica can respond quickly to changes in the environment.

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Ben Wallis, from the University of Leeds, said: “What is exciting about this study is that it shows how sensitive Antarctic glaciers are to the environment. We have long known that Greenland glaciers exhibit seasonal behaviour, but only now has satellite data shown similar behavior in Antarctica.” Originally we had not intended to focus on the western coast of the peninsula, but after seeing some interesting signals on the Brigy glacier, we did further research and found that summer velocities along the entire coast were spread out.”

Image: ESA (data: ECMWF ERA5)

Anna Hogg, also from the University of Leeds, added: “These results show that it is necessary to take into account short-term seasonal changes in glacier velocity when gauging how much ice is lost from Antarctica and contributing to global warming. The temperature of any region on Earth. Continuing this type of work will allow glaciologists to track how quickly changes are occurring, so that an accurate assessment can be made of how Earth’s ice is responding to climate change.”

With its ability to record images day and night and in all weather conditions, the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission is essential for monitoring ice changes in the polar regions. While two more satellites of this family have yet to be launched to continue the work of the first two, other satellites are being built in a new family of Copernicus Sentinel expansion missions that will take polar observation into the future.

Craig Donlon of the European Space Agency commented: “This study shows how high-resolution satellite imagery can help us track how the environment is changing in remote regions. Future satellites, such as the family of Copernicus Sentinel expansion missions, promise more continuity and the opportunity that That leads to a better understanding of the properties and processes that determine glacier mass and sea level rise.”

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source: ESA

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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