How Stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Fri, 18/08/2017

In an article in leading outreach journal Scientia, Edinburgh and Northumbria University glaciologists consider the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during previous interglacial periods.

Following on from their published work in Nature Communications (February and August 2016). Professor David Sugden and Dr Andy Hein from the School of GeoSciences and Professor John Woodward from Northumbria University discuss their collaborative work on ice sheet loss in Antarctica and how further loss can impact a rise in sea levels. 

The team studied blue-ice moraines using 3-D laser scanning, Differential GPS and ground-penetrating radar to determine ice thickness,

‘The study of ice-sheet evolution is like a detective story,. You compare observations on the ground with theory and painstakingly build up a narrative of how the ice sheet has evolved to its present state. Each field campaign takes you further but raises more questions. Our focus on blue-ice moraines is such an example.'

   -   Professor David Sugden

Another focus of the team's work was looking at how glaciers have cut into the landscape, leaving an erosional trimline in the exposed peaks of the Ellsworth Mountain range.  In work published in Earth & Planetary Science Letters (July 2017), the team presented evidence showing how the glacial trimline evolved up to 14 million years ago, when the Earth was 20C warmer than present and vegetation was present in the Ellsworth Mountains.

The team's findings are helping to understand how the Antarctic Ice Sheet has evolved over the years and will help to predict its future.


Further Information and Links

Hein et al, Nature Communications, February 2016: Evidence for the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet divide for 1.4 million years

Hein et al, Nature Communications, August 2016: MId-Holocene pulse of thinning in the Weddell Sea sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet

Sugden et al, Earth & Planetary Science Letters, July 2017: The million-year evolution of the glacial trimline in the southernmost Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica

Sugden et al, Scientia - Earth & Environment Articles, July 2017: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Sugden et al Scientia July 2017
Sugden et al Scientia July 2017