This is Why….

…we need to know in more detail how solid Earth responds to the massive ice loss we are facing on Antarctica as a result of climate change:

In today’s The Guardian, Oliver Milman reports on recent research publications in Nature about the projected sea level rise resulting from ice loss in Antarctica in general and glaciers, such as Thwaites in particular.

Strong language, including ‘catastrophic’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘frightening’ does not usually roll readily off the tongues of serious scientists, so to me, this is a stark reminder that we all need to support, with our own sustainability actions, the limitation of climate change to a 1.5°C increase relative to the average pre-industrial temperature.

Important also is the statement ‘…this is ongoing work‘. Climate change impact models are constantly refined, taking into account more and more processes in more and more detail. Crucially, this refinement depends on data – the kind of data we are going to collect during the Antarctic Quest 21 expedition.

One example is related to isostatic equilibration: the response of the Earth’s crust to lightening the load on the Antarctic continent when ice is melting and disappearing into the sea. Think of a ship, heavy with cargo, being unloaded: it rises until its displacement equals its net weight. Ice sheets on Antarctica supress the Earth’s crust of this continent into the molten mantle. Lessening the ice load results in a rise of the continent – this process is called isostatic rebound. The extent of isostatic rebound depends on the viscosity of the mantle beneath and this is regionally different. Without knowing by how much the crust rises in a region, ice loss cannot be accurately determined by satellite measurements. One of our projects supports vital research by Dr Pippa Whitehouse at Durham University that measures isostatic rebound with millimetre precision.

And this is why this expedition is important: sea level rise will affect all of us in the not-too-distant future!

Visualise isostatic rebound and find out about the other science projects supported by the expedition here.

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