Ice Sheets

Fast action with little effect

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Science  25 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6315, pp. 1017-1018
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6315.1017-g

The ice–ocean interface helps determine how ice sheets decay.

PHOTO: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is responsible for a major part of Antarctica's ice loss, with an ice stream whose rate of flow to the sea accelerated by around 75% between 1974 and 2010. Like many similar glaciers, its decay is thought to be linked to warming of the ocean with which it makes contact. Christianson et al. report subannual observations of PIG for the period 2009 to 2014, which show that glacier retreat and accelerated ice flow likely were initiated decades ago by such ocean-induced melting, and that transient ocean cooling has only a relatively minor effect on ice flow once marine ice sheet instability is under way. The long-term effects of ocean temperature variability on ice flow still are not known, however.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 10.1002/2016GL070500 (2016).

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