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Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest ice streams in Antarctica. Pine Island Glacier flows at rates of up to m per year2. It is of interest to scientists because it is changing rapidly; it is thinning, accelerating and receding3, all of which contribute directly to sea level, and its future under a warming climate is uncertain.
Pine Island Glacier is buttressed by a large, floating ice shelfwhich helps to stabilise the glacier, but this ice shelf is itself thinning and recently calved a huge iceberg.
Just watch how fast the ice flows in the video below, and notice especially how the ice speeds up when it reaches the floating ice shelf.
The white dots show how particles move with the ice which are initially randomly distributed over the ice surface. Colours in addition show the flow speed.
By Youtube user pikff1. An inaccessible location Autosub near the ice from http: It is remote from any research bases, so flying there means making multiple short flights, making fuel depots to allow scientists to hop to the location.
Low lying cloud often makes flying hazardous. The ice stream is heavily-crevassed and dangerous, so walking on it is difficult. Sea ice keeps ships away, making it difficult to access the ice stream from the ocean.
However, scientists have several ingenious ways in which they can observe changes to this fragile, important ice stream. They can measure changes in ice extent and thinning from satellites4,5, and they have fired javelins loaded with sensors onto the ice surface, into places with too many crevasses for people to travel.
Can you identify the ice shelf? You can also see how the surface of both the ice stream and ice shelf is heavily crevassed, making it difficult to walk on the surface of the ice. Simplified cartoon of a tributary glacier feeding into an ice shelf, showing the grounding line where the glacier begins to float.
Pine Island Glacier drains much of the marine-based West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and it has a configuration susceptible to rapid disintegration and recession. The ice sheet in this area is grounded up to m below sea level, making it intrinsically unstable6 and susceptible to rapid melting at its base, and to rapid migration of the grounding line up the ice stream7 see Marine Ice Sheet Instability.
The images below show how much of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, especially around Pine Island Glacier, is grounded well below sea level. Isostatically corrected Antarctic continent with the ice removed.
Global Warming Art Project. The grounding line receded by more than 20 km from to The ice stream is steepening, which increases the gravitational driving stress, helping it to flow faster, and there is no indication that the glacier is approaching a steady state The grey bars at the right indicate the best estimate and likely range of temperatures.
Pine Island Glacier could collapse — stagnate and retreat far up into the bay, resulting in rapid sea level rise — within the next few centuries, raising global sea levels by 1.
Some studies have suggested that the entire main trunk of Pine Island Glacier could unground and become afloat within years14, but more recent modelling efforts suggest that much longer timescales are needed to unground the entire trunk2. These numerical computer models indicate that annual rates of sea level rise from Pine Island Glacier could reach 2.
It remains difficult to assess how soon a collapse of Pine Island Glacier could occurbut a new paper by Bamber and Aspinall suggest that there is a growing view that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could become unstable over the next years The largest contibution to global sea level rise from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets combined is around This gives a total of 33 to cm of global total sea level rise by Uncertainty over the future behaviour of Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is one of the largest constraints on accurately predicting future sea level rise Current behaviour Rignot et al.
The velocity is well above that required to maintain mass balance — so the ice stretches longitudinally, and thins vertically3. In the figure right, from Rignot et al. Mass loss from this basin doubled from toand it is the largest ice loss in Antarctica.Essay Scholarships.
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