Two grants help scientists predict stability of ice sheets

Edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. About 16 stories of ice are visible above the water line. Doug Wiens of Washington University in St. Louis is the principal investigator on a new grant to install seismographs on the shelf to learn more about its likely response to continued warming. (Photo: Courtesy of Lin Padgham)

One of the last big unknowns in the global climate equation is Antarctica. How stable is the Antarctic ice sheet? More than a mile thick, on average, it locks up 70 percent of the Earth’s fresh water.

If it melted entirely, global sea levels would rise nearly 200 feet. So understanding how the ice sheet is affected by global climate change is extremely important.

At the end of the last glacial maximum, when ice sheets reached their maximum extent 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, the ice covering Antarctica was even thicker than it is today. As the cold eased and some of the ice melted, the land mass began to rebound, flexing slowly upward.

“The rebound can be used to weigh the ice sheet and determine how much mass it has lost and is currently losing,” said Doug Wiens

Doug Wiens, PhD, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is an investigator on two new National Science Foundation grants that will fund the installation of seismographs to calibrate crucial parts of the Antarctic ice-weighing machine: the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Ross Ice Shelf.

Read the full story in the SOURCE: Weighing the Antarctic ice sheet