WASHINGTON - A major glacier formation in Antarctica
shrinking, according to a new scientific report which is likely to
concerns that global warming is causing the world's ice cover to
Scientists at the University College London and the British
presented new evidence Thursday suggesting that the West
Island Glacier is thinning at a rate that, if continued, will have
afloat within 600 years.
Using satellite data, the scientists monitored the glacier between
1999 and found that this inland glacier of the West Antarctic Ice
about 31 cubic kilometres of ice during this time. The study
in the journal Science, a peer review publication.
The huge but remote Antarctic Pine Island Glacier is thinning at rates fast enough to raise global sea levels, British researchers said on February 1, 2001. The glacier, which is the largest glacier in West Antarctica, is seen in this satellite photo taken January 3. (National Snow and Ice Data Center via Reuters)
The glacier is decreasing by approximately four gigatons per year,
equivalent to approximately 0.01 millimetres of sea level rise,
The Pine Island Glacier is the largest of all the ice streams that
the ocean and could therefore be a key indicator of any larger
the ice sheet's interior, according to the researchers.
Scientists have taken an interest in monitoring the West Antarctic
because it contains enough water to raise global sea level by
five metres if the ice melted.
Andrew Shepherd, one of the scientists involved in the study, told
there is no suggestion that the findings are a sign of global
cause of the thinning/retreat still remains a mystery,'' he says.
But Shepherd says the new data add ''weight to the argument that
ice sheet coastline, such as those that may occur due to global
affect the interior of the ice sheet, where the majority of ice is
He says questions still remain about the speed at which the ice
thinning. Scientists studying glaciers have debated for many years
not a retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would be an
''At present, our data show that the retreat has been uniform for
eight years,'' says Shepherd.
If the retreat were to accelerate, the resulting increase in
global sea levels
could be far greater and sooner than currently predicted, he says.
Other scientific studies of the massive Antarctic ice cover, which
91 percent of Earth's ice, have also concluded that the ice is
there is disagreement over how quickly this is happening.
One study published in Science in 1999 estimates that the Western
Sheet, the smaller of the continent's two ice sheets, has
retreated at an
average rate of 122 metres a year for the past 7,500 years and is
in no danger
But other studies suggest that the sheet may break more abruptly
accelerates. They point to signs of past collapse, as well as to
ice streams within the sheet that could speed ice melt.
The new findings published Thursday are likely to increase
warming caused by the burning of oil, gas and coal is having an
impact on the
Earth's ice cover.
At an international conference in China on Jan. 22, an
international panel of
hundreds of scientists from more than 100 countries unanimously
report that confirmed that the evidence for humanity's influences
climate is stronger than ever.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts an average
1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the coming century. Scientists
cause more frequent and intense storms, droughts and floods. Sea
projected to rise by 0.09 to 0.88 metres from 1990 to 2100,
according to the
The Panel concludes that it is very likely that snow cover has
about 10 percent since the late 1960s in the mid- and high-
latitudes of the
Northern Hemisphere. It also says it is likely that there has been
decline in Arctic sea-ice thickness during late summer to early
According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think-tank
Washington, scientists worldwide are witnessing a dramatic melting
planet's coldest regions.
''From the polar regions to high mountain glaciers, Earth's ice
melting at an astonishing rate,'' says Lisa Mastny, a researcher
The World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland says that the
glaciers are now shrinking faster than they are growing and losses
Scientists predict that up to a quarter of the global mountain
could disappear by 2050, and up to half by 2100 - leaving large
Alaska, Patagonia, and the Himalayas.
Mastny says the disappearance of the Earth's ice cover would
alter the global climate since ice reflects large amounts of solar
into space and helps cool the planet.
''When ice melts, however, this exposes land and water surfaces
heat - leading to even more melt and creating a feedback loop that
the overall warming,'' she says.