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A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, presented on May 12, 2014, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea. The Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler glaciers discharge ever more rapidly into the Amundsen Sea. And even though the Amundsen Sea Embayment is a very small area of the continent of Antarctica these glaciers contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet and they are melting faster than most scientists had expected. These findings, we are told, will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.
A world trying to understand the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet now needs to turn its attention to a frozen continent at the bottom of the globe that seemed too far away and too massively frozen to be of concern.
The glaciologist Eric Rignot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine, followed decades of research and theory to explain how and why the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is inherently vulnerable. The late arrival of satellite observation in addition to airplane overflights have allowed them to see and quantify what exactly is happening at the base of the glaciers and their so-called grounding lines where the ice sheet is attached to a bed of rock or soil below sea level.
Professor Chris Rapley, who is famous for his inspired and intelligent descriptions of Antarctica, was the Director of the British Antarctic Survey when I interviewed him in 2005. He had warned of the loss of the West Antarctic glaciers in a 2005 keynote speech and an interview with TUC Radio.
His lucid explanation of the history of exploration and the function of Antarctica and the global circulation of water and his deep understanding of the processes of melting are the perfect introduction to the new findings by Professor Eric Rignot in the upcoming program by TUC Radio.