The world is already aware of climate change and its effects on the North Pole. The Arctic is melting at a worrying speed and this could raise the ocean levels by about 20 feet. But if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts along with it, this would drown many coastal cities and tiny islands.
A huge chunk of West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier broke off and tumbled into the sea last year. Scientists at Ohio State University have now determined the root cause of the iceberg calving. In 2013, a rift formed at the base of the ice shelf, 20 miles inland. The crack worked its way up for two years until it caused the iceberg to break off.
It’s like nothing scientists have witnessed in Antarctica before, and it doesn’t bode well for the continent’s future. The West Antarctic ice sheet is separated from the ocean by a series of large glaciers. The glaciers serve as a sort of plug keeping the sea away from the ice.
Researchers believe that the rift began deep down the ice shelf, where warming waters are eating away at the ice. That’s a new threat because rifts usually form at the margins, not deep inland.
The US and UK are already teaming up on field research in the area. Other countries should also join the efforts to determine the cause of the cracking ice sheets. Humanity is in for a rough ride if it doesn’t address the effects of climate change in time.