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Antarctic glaciers are moving towards the sea ‘100 percent’ faster than previously thought 

‘Significant’ consequences for sea levels as scientists discover Antarctic glaciers are slipping towards the ocean ‘100 PERCENT’ faster than previously thought

  • Study shows glaciers headed toward sea 100 percent faster than once thought
  • This is the first time surface melting was shown to affect impacts of glacier flow
  • The rate shows that up to 400 meters per year are are lost 

An explosive new study shows that surface meltwater is causing a sudden and rapid acceleration in the flow of Glaciers toward the sea — a harbinger for rapid sea level rises.

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, the finding is the first time scientists have correlated surface melting to impacts on the flow of glaciers in Antarctica.

The concerning new findings were discovered by using imagery and data from satellites alongside regional climate modelling.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield discovered that meltwater is causing some glaciers to move at speeds 100 percent faster than average — up to 400 meters per year — for a period of several days multiple times per year.

Surface meltwater draining through the ice and beneath Antarctic glaciers is causing sudden and rapid accelerations in their flow towards the sea, according to new research


In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have correlated the affects of surface meltwater on the movement of glaciers toward the sea.


Glaciers move downhill due to gravity via the internal deformation of ice, and basal sliding where they slide over the ground beneath them, lubricated by liquid water.

The new research shows that accelerations in Antarctic Peninsula glaciers’ movements coincide with spikes in snowmelt. 

When the meltwater penetrates the ice bed, it melts the formation and and lubricates glacier flow. 

Scientists say that as temperatures continue to rise in the Antarctic, surface melting will occur more frequently and across a wider area further accelerating the speed at which glaciers move towards the sea.

Ultimately, they predict that glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula will behave like those in present-day Greenland and Alaska, where meltwater controls the size and timing of variations in glacier flow across seasons and years.

Effects of a major shift in Antarctic glacier melt on ice flow has yet to be  incorporated into the models used to predict the future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution to sea level rise. 

‘Our research shows for the first time that surface meltwater is getting beneath glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula – causing short bursts of sliding towards the sea 100 per cent faster than normal,’ said Jeremy Ely, Independent Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography and author of the study.

‘As atmospheric temperatures continue to rise, we expect to see more surface meltwater than ever, so such behaviour may become more common in Antarctica.

‘It’s crucial that this factor is considered in models of future sea level rise, so we can prepare for a world with fewer and smaller glaciers.’ 

‘The direct link between surface melting and glacier flow rates has been well documented in other regions of the world, but this is the first time we have seen this coupling anywhere in Antarctica.

‘Given that atmospheric temperatures, and hence surface melt rates, in Antarctica are predicted to increase, this discovery could have significant implications for future rates of sea level rise.’ 





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