Rising sea levels are one of the most disastrous potential consequences of global warming. Since these sea levels are largely dependent on the Antarctic ice sheet, it is important to predict how quickly this sheet will melt. One major factor is the heat patterns of the bedrock beneath the ice sheet, which contains elements that break down and release heat over time. Because the ice can be up to several miles thick, the heat generation of this bedrock has not been measured directly. Instead, when scientists predict the ice sheet melting rate, they estimate bedrock heat conditions based on other information, such as satellite data.

However, new work from the University of South Australia suggests that these estimates may be quite inaccurate. The team used the fact that East Antarctica and southern Australia were once joined together, and hence conditions in the latter can shed insight into the former. By studying heat patterns in rock samples from southern Australia, they found that scientists have been underestimating how much heat could be generated. This means that melting could actually occur more quickly than previously predicted, which implies that sea levels may rise more quickly as well.

Their results are currently limited to East Antarctica, since this is the region that was connected to Australia. However, the fact that existing models underestimated heat generation in this region suggests that the same might be true across the Antarctic ice sheet. If that’s the case, then catastrophic effects of global warming could be more imminent than we think.

Managing Correspondent: Isabella Grabski

Press Articles:

Antarctic ice sheets could be at greater risk of melting than previously thought. Newswise.

Original Scientific Article:

Heat Flow in Southern Australia and Connections With East Antarctica. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

Image:

“Map Of Major Tectonic Plates In The World” by BlatantWorld.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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