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Scientists Discover New Site of Potential Instability in Wes

http://www.utexas.edu/news/2012/05/10/ice_sheet/
Scientists Discover New Site of Potential Instability in West Antarctic Ice Sheet

5/10/12

AUSTIN, Texas Using ice-penetrating radar instruments flown on aircraft, a team of scientists from the U.S. and U.K. have uncovered a previously unknown sub-glacial basin nearly the size of New Jersey beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) near the Weddell Sea. The location, shape and texture of the mile-deep basin suggest that this region of the ice sheet is at a greater risk of collapse than previously thought.

Team members at The University of Texas at Austin compared data about the newly discovered basin to data they previously collected from other parts of the WAIS that also appear highly vulnerable, including Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier. Although the amount of ice stored in the new basin is less than the ice stored in previously studied areas, it might be closer to a tipping point.

"If we were to invent a set of conditions conducive to retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this would be it, said Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and co-author on the new paper. "With its smooth bed that slopes steeply toward the interior, we could find no other region in West Antarctica more poised for change than this newly discovered basin at the head of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. The only saving grace is that losing the ice over this new basin would only raise sea level by a small percentage of the several meters that would result if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet destabilized."

The study's co-authors also included Duncan Young, research scientist associate at the Institute for Geophysics.

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