Thursday, April 20, 2017

Antarctic Surface Melt More Widespread Than Thought

Surface meltwater drainage systems found around Antarctica in satellite images and aerial photos. (Credit: Kingslake, et al./Nature) Click to Enlarge.
Since the days of the great early 20th century polar explorers, scientists have noticed the unbelievably bright blue ponds and streams of meltwater that can form on the glaciers and ice shelves of Antarctica and were even crucial to the recent collapse of one ice shelf.

While most research into Antarctic ice melt has concentrated on the impacts of warming ocean waters that are eating away at the ice from below, a new continent-wide survey shows that these surface meltwater drainage systems are much more prevalent around the continent than was previously thought.

The systems, described in two new studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature, vary from a collection of ponds to a roaring seasonal river that dumps meltwater into the ocean via a 400-foot-wide waterfall.  The ubiquity and variety of these meltwater systems may means they are more important to the future stability of Antarctica’s ice shelves than scientists had realized, the researchers behind the survey say.

“It shows that we’re just starting to understand” the complexities of such systems and that we need “more sophisticated views of the plumbing on our planet,” study co-author Robin Bell, a polar researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said.

Read more at Antarctic Surface Melt More Widespread Than Thought

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