Bet you won’t see this report on tonight’s news because, you know, the science is settled!
A new study by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is collapsing due to geothermal heat, not man-made global warming.
Researchers from the UTA’s Institute for Geophysics found that the Thwaites Glacier in western Antarctica is being eroded by the ocean as well as geothermal heat from magma and subaerial volcanoes. Thwaites is considered a key glacier for understanding future sea level rise.
As it turns out, geothermal heat from magma and volcanoes under the glacier is much hotter and covers a much wider area than was previously thought. The geothermal heat under the glaciers is likely a key factor in why the ice sheet is currently collapsing. Before this study, it was assumed that heat flow under the glacier was evenly distributed throughout, but UTA’s study shows this is not the case. Heat levels under the glacier are uneven, with some areas being much hotter than others.
“The combination of variable subglacial geothermal heat flow and the interacting subglacial water system could threaten the stability of Thwaites Glacier in ways that we never before imagined,” lead researcher David Schroeder said. “It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” echoed co-author Don Blankenship “And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”
Previous studies have also shown that the collapse of the continent’s western ice sheet is nothing new. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has released two major studies in the last year showing that the thinning south pole ice is nothing new.
A BAS study from February found that Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier thinned just as fast 8,000 years ago as it has in recent times — it also was able to reverse the collapse.
“The record shows that this region has warmed since the late 1950s, at a similar magnitude to that observed in the Antarctic Peninsula and central West Antarctica,” said a BAS study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last year, “however, this warming trend is not unique.”
“More dramatic isotopic warming (and cooling) trends occurred in the mid-19th and 18th centuries, suggesting that at present the effect of anthropogenic climate drivers at this location has not exceeded the natural range of climate variability in the context of the past ~300 years,” the study said.