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Satellites shed light on global warming

After the collapse event in 2002, the outlet glaciers from the Antarctic Peninsula that previously nourished the ice shelf retreated many kilometres above the previous grounding line. Altogether about 250 square kilometres of grounded ice have been lost at the outlet glaciers of former Larsen-A and Larsen-B ice shelves.

The remoteness, darkness and cloudiness of Earth’s Polar Regions make them difficult to study. An instrument known as the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) allows Envisat to produce high-quality images of ice sheets because it is able to pierce through clouds and darkness.

In addition to mapping ice boundaries, Rott used repeat-pass ASAR image data to map the flow velocities of glaciers. All the glaciers, where the buttressing ice had disappeared, have accelerated significantly. The retreat of grounded ice and the accelerated ice export due to increased velocity result in strongly negative mass balance of the glaciers.

"The velocity of the glaciers increased up to eight-fold compared to the speed when the ice shelf buttressed the glaciers," Rott said. "The total estimated mass loss of glaciers above the disintegrated ice shelf sections since 2002 has been equivalent to about 2 percent of total sea level rise, which, although not a significant percentage, demonstrates the vulnerability of ice shelves to climatic warming and the importance of ice shelves for the stability of glaciers up-stream."

"The disintegration processes observed at Larsen Ice Shelf are very relevant for estimating the future response to climatic warming of the much larger ice masses of West Antarctica, which contain freshwater equivalent to several metres of sea-level rise," Rott added.

Satellites have been extremely beneficial to scientists in understanding oceanic planetary waves, which are internal waves that have major effects on large-scale ocean circulation and thus on climate. These very long waves trav
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Source:European Space Agency


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