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Antarctica’s Landscape Without Ice: A Sneak Peek

Susmita BaralSusmita Baral
Antarctica’s Landscape Without Ice: A Sneak Peek

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are providing a view of Antarctica that has never been seen before—what the landscape is like without the ice. They have released a model using cartographic data, titled Bedmap2, in collaboration with international contributors  that reveals the hidden mountain ranges, plains, and valleys. But best of all, the image has amazing details.

Wondering what the scientists have found? One interesting discovery is an area beneath the Byrd Glacier in Victoria Land that rests 2,870 meters below sea level, making it the lowest point on Earth’s continental plates.

The authors of the study share:

The volume and distribution of ice in Antarctica are funda- mental factors in determining the future behaviour of the ice sheets and their potential contribution to sea-level rise. Fur- thermore, the detailed form of the subglacial landscape and seafloor hold a record of the tectonic and geomorphic pro- cesses that created the Antarctic continent. Bedmap2 brings together the collective efforts of an international commu- nity of surveyors, since the beginning of the scientific era in Antarctica, to map the ice sheets and underlying landscape with an unprecedented combination of detail and extent.

The findings of this study are significant, especially when you keep in mind the rapid ice loss of the Antarctic. According to a recent study by a Texas A&M University researcher, the melting rates of glaciers in Antarctica are accelerating due to global warming.

Alejandro Orsi, associate professor of oceanography, and his colleagues from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, “examined the entry to one of three cross-shelf passages in the Amundsen Sea that allow warm oceanic water to reach beneath the ice shelves in front of the Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers, which show the fastest thinning.” Their findings were far from ideal: They found a year-long persistent inflow of warm bottom water along this trough.

“The first reaction was to look for direct atmospheric anomalies in Antarctica, since air temperature would be easiest to be blamed, but we found that is not necessarily the case here,” Orsi explains in a press release. “These changes are being driven mainly by the ocean, which in turn interacts with the atmosphere in complex ways.”

The melting landscape of Antarctica is taking a toll on sea levels—new research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has found that the global rise in sea level is happening 60% faster than the projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Results show that global temperature continues to increase in very good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC,” the authors of the new study write. “The rate of sea level rise of the past decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea level projections for the future may also be biased low.”

Susmita is a freelance writer and editor in the Greater New York City area with her own blog on natural beauty (Cherry Stained Lips). In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.