emfizz.com June 24, 2017

Antarctica's Seasonal Meltwater Networks More Extensive Than Previously Thought

20 April 2017, 07:01 | Bernard Bryant

Antarctica Tabular Icebergs. Wolfgang Kaehle—LightRocket via Getty Images

Antarctica Tabular Icebergs. Wolfgang Kaehle—LightRocket via Getty Images

An enormous waterfall gushes off the Nansen Ice Shelf.

"This is not in the future-this is widespread now, and has been for decades", says study author Jonathan Kingslake, who studies glaciers at Columbia University, in a press release.

The study draws on satellite images of the continent dating back to 1973 and aerial photos collected by military planes from as early as 1947.

They found almost 700 drainage systems that formed during the summer melt season, some of which were found farther inland and at higher altitudes than the researchers expected.

In total, almost 700 seasonal ponds and channels streams were found, with some streams as long as 121 kilometres (75 miles).

Antarctica's ice may melt faster than previously thought as result of a newly discovered network of lakes and streams that destabilize the continent's ice shelves, according to new research - making them more vulnerable to collapse.

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"We have these two different scenarios and we don't know which one is more likely", Kingslake said, though that will likely vary from ice shelf to ice shelf.

The positive news is that we now have information data than ever before about what's happening with meltwater in Antarctica, and that should help us understand more about how the ice could shift in the future. Some ponds were 50 miles long, fed by streams which carried as much water as the Hudson river. Though meltwater is thought to have been a major contributing factor in the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, most research into such surface melt features were concentrated in Greenland, where they seemed to be more important to understanding warming-driven melt. You can see awesome footage of the drainage system in question below.

There are various mechanisms through which the meltwater network forms during the Antarctic summer.

Numerous newly mapped channels start in mountains that poke between glaciers, or in areas where winds have whipped the snow covering off bluish ice. Once this happens, a feedback loop is triggered where the melting ice starts exposing more dark ice as the water flows through the snow. In other regions, the meltwater surfaces around rocky mountain outcroppings which peak out of the ice.

Ponds and streams of meltwater had been documented on Antarctica as far back as the famed expeditions led by Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott in 1909 and 1912, respectively.

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