A study by scientists from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom has found evidence from a 6-kilometer-long ice sheet that reveals that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet shrank dramatically around 8,000 years ago. The findings show how quickly Antarctic ice would melt and sea levels would rise by at least 5 meters, flooding coastal areas around the world.
According to a study published in the journal Natural Earth Sciences, the portion of this ice sheet analyzed shrank by 450 meters in 200 years at the end of the last ice age. This is the first time there is direct evidence of such rapid ice loss anywhere in Antarctica.
“We can tell exactly when it retreated, but we can also tell how quickly it retreated,” glaciologist Eric Wolff of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom explains to CNN International.
The risk, scientists warn, is that the observed behavior may recur. “If it starts to back off, it will do so very quickly indeed.”
The consequences could be catastrophic, as the ice sheet currently holds enough water to raise sea levels by about 5 meters, causing catastrophic flooding of coastal towns and cities around the world.
“The amount of ice stored in Antarctica can change very quickly – something that would be difficult for many coastal cities to control”, the expert summarizes.
These ice sheets act as a “reservoir” for Earth's atmosphere because they are made up of layers of ice, snowballed and compacted over thousands of years, and contain ancient air bubbles and impurities. A record of environmental changes over thousands and thousands of years.
The core in question is drilled into the Skytrain Ice Rise, one of the extremes of the ice sheet, and will begin to float and become part of the Rhone platform.
After collecting samples in 2019, the analysis surprised everyone because the speed of ice reduction was higher than expected. “We actually spent a lot of time verifying that we didn't make mistakes in the analysis,” Wolff explains.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is particularly vulnerable to climate change because it has land beneath it and is below sea level and slopes downward, so it melts quickly when warmer water gets underneath the ice sheet.
“There may be an uncontrolled process that happened 8,000 years ago,” warns the responsible scientist.
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