Oct 26, 2017

In Antarctica, Two Crucial Glaciers Accelerate Toward the Sea

Jugal K. Patel
New York Times
Image: Copernicus Sentinel-1 | Delft University of Technology
Image: Copernicus Sentinel-1 | Delft University of Technology

Two of the frozen continent’s fastest-moving glaciers are shedding an increasing amount of ice into the Amundsen Sea each year.

The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are among the most critical in the world. They are currently holding back ice that, if melted, would raise the world’s oceans by nearly four feet over centuries, an amount that would put many coastal cities underwater.


The Pine Island’s flow is accelerating rapidly. Its ice shelf, an expanse of ice that floats on water where the glacier meets the sea, has increased its speed by 75 percent from 1973 to 2010.

“This is a result of the warmer waters in front of them,” said Eric Rignot, a climate scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who has done extensive research on polar ice.

“In some relatively colder years, we know the melt rate slowed down and the glaciers slowed down. On warm ocean years, the glacier moves really fast.”