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Gigantic Iceberg Disintegrates as Concern Grows Over Glacier Stability, Sea Level Rise

The stability of a key Antarctic glacier appears to have taken a turn for the worse as a large iceberg that broke off during September has swiftly shattered. Meanwhile, scientists are concerned that the rate of sea level rise could further accelerate in a world forced to rapidly warm by human fossil fuel burning.

(Iceberg drifting away from the Pine Island Glacier rapidly shatters. Image source: European Space Agency.)

This week, a large iceberg that recently calved from West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier rapidly and unexpectedly disintegrated as it drifted away from the frozen continent. The iceberg, which covers 103 square miles, was predicted to drift out into the Southern Ocean before breaking up. But just a little more than two months after calving in September, the massive chunk of ice is already falling apart.

The break-off and disintegration of this large berg has caused Pine Island Glacier’s ice front to significantly retreat. From 1947 up until about 2015, the glacier’s leading edge had remained relatively stable despite significant thinning as warmer water began to cut beneath it. But since 2015, this key West Antarctic glacier has begun to rapidly withdraw. And it now dumps 45 billion tons of ice into the world ocean each year.

(Glaciers like Pine Island balance on a geological razor’s edge. Because they sit on a reverse slope, it only takes a relatively moderate amount of ocean warming to precipitate a rapid collapse. These collapses have happened numerous times in the past when the Earth warmed. Now, human-forced climate change is driving a similar process that is threatening the world’s coastal cities. Image source: Antarctic Glaciers.)

The present rate of melt is enough to raise sea levels by around 1 millimeter per year. That’s not too alarming. But there’s concern that Pine Island Glacier will speed up, dump more ice into the ocean and lift seas by a faster and faster rate.

Pine Island Glacier and its sister glacier Thwaites together contain enough water to raise seas by around 3-7 feet. The glacier sits on a reverse slope that allows more water to flood inland, exposing higher and less stable ice cliffs as the glacier melts inland. If the glacier melts too far back and the ice cliffs grow too high, they could rapidly collapse — spilling a very large volume of ice into the ocean over a rather brief period of time. As a result, scientists are very concerned that Pine Island could swiftly destabilize and push the world’s oceans significantly higher during the coming years and decades.

No one is presently predicting an immediate catastrophe coming from the melt of glaciers like Pine Island. However, though seemingly stable and slow moving, glacial stability can change quite rapidly. Already, sea level rise due to melt from places like Greenland and Antarctica is threatening many low-lying communities and nations around the world. So the issue is one of present and growing crisis. And there is very real risk that the next few decades could see considerable further acceleration of Antarctica’s glaciers as a result of human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning.

Dr Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at British Antarctic Survey, who has researched Pine Island Glacier in his work with the Alfred Wegener Institute, recently noted to Phys.org:

“If the ice shelf continues to thin and the ice front continues to retreat, its buttressing effect on PIG will diminish, which is likely to lead to further dynamic thinning and retreat of the glacier. PIG already makes the largest contribution to  of any single Antarctic glacier and the fact that its bed increases in depth upstream for more than 200 km means there is the possibility of runway retreat that would result in an even bigger contribution to sea level.”

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik Friedrickson

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47 Comments

  1. coloradobob

     /  December 4, 2017

    RS –
    You make sausage faster than anyone I ever met.

    I have been puzzling over this rapid collapse , and your simple diagram offers the clue. As the retreat progresses , more of the ACC can circulate into the bottom of the system , and attack the bergs from the “Ice” side., as it returns from attacking the grounding line. I also noticed that there was no sea ice when this event was taking place back in September. Hence no , breaking action on the berg moving out to sea.

    Reply
  2. coloradobob

     /  December 4, 2017
    Reply
  3. Jeremy in Wales

     /  December 4, 2017

    Attached link gives a bit of discussion as to how the “warm” water is delivered to these glaciers, and warm means at most 1°C, as the ice in salt water melts at something like -3°C.
    https://phys.org/news/2017-07-stronger-west-antarctic-ice.html
    Once this breakdown of Thwaites and Pine Island starts there is really no reversing the consequences for a few centuries, unless humanity is lucky enough to have a series of very large volcanic eruptions.

    Reply
  4. Greg

     /  December 4, 2017

    India is in desperate need of two things — clean water and clean power. Both needs are being met with a simple structure. Over 200 have been installed. It is a stainless steel structure that is for all intents and purposes an upside-down umbrella. It filters rainwater to make drinking water and is lined with solar panels to generate electricity.

    Details here:

    https://cleantechnica.com/2017/12/04/inverted-umbrella-brings-clean-water-clean-power-india

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  December 5, 2017

      Greg –
      Thanks for this one . As RS does here often , It is good to be reminded that millions of people are at work on these problems I was reminded of the old Spirit song –

      Spirit —- Prelude / Nothin To Hide

      Reply
  5. Syd Bridges

     /  December 4, 2017

    It’s a short life being a canary in a coal mine these days. This sudden breakup of the berg tells us that either the ice was in very poor condition when it broke away in September, or seas are extremely warm in the neighborhood or, more likely, both are true. I have long thought that this century will see multi-metre sea level rise. Exponential processes may start slowly, but they increase much faster than most people realize. The PIG and Thwaites will allow the WAIS to contribute a fair proportion of that SLR, perhaps around a metre.

    Reply
    • Mblanc

       /  December 5, 2017

      I share your pessimism, the subject has an ominous trajectory, evidence piling up, things worse than we thought, non-linear processes etc etc.

      The estimates have been steadily creeping up, but I think Hansen looks ahead of the curve again.

      Reply
      • Just something to think about. When I started writing this blog, we weren’t looking at a practical peak in carbon emissions until the 2030s at the earliest. Now we are in a period of time when we might achieve it within a year or two. Both futures are closer than we expected. We are at the point of crisis now.

        Reply
        • John McCormick

           /  December 5, 2017

          Yes, Robert. I am getting more confidence your prediction will arrive. Its the pipeline of climate gases that will time a few decades to reflect the peak. Running faster with reductions will require a WWII effort.

  6. There is a tornado warning out for Arkansas..Not tornado season March thu May is normal..There are 2 areas if rotation right now

    Reply
  7. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante —

    I drilled on the Grand Staircase. Long before it was set aside . Way back when the I-phone hit the oil business . Nearly 40 years ago. That would be the years the Iranians had their revolution. And who was sitting on giant piles of money ?
    It scared the crap out of Big Oil. I surfed that wave.

    We were drilling our asses off. We were slammin’ steel. and that was a much a more open world than what we see now. My first lines I ran, crossed where bull dozzers where dragged up hill. 20 years before me. We found their cap wires laying in the woods. I have an eye full of Utah , she saved my life.
    My best day was on the Anschutz Ranch. The first big strike in Utah. I had our helicopter pilot fly me over the line at the end of our first day. When we landed , I told BJ Walker. our party manager , I was about to drill more holes than we had ever seen. Much later, he told me when i said that , he could have kissed me. He knew he would look good.

    And he did. Trust me I slammed steel on the Overthrust Belt . The most complex geology in North America.

    I my entire drill basket was on fire once , in the morning . 60 lbs. of high voliticey nitroopel .

    My helper was sloppy , he spilled gas when he fueled us. Then he lite a match for a smoke. . We were sitting in a perfect bowl, with no wind. The entire bowl when up, not very big . But the woods were on fire , the gas cans were on fire, the cap box WAS on fire. 60 lbs. was on fire.

    Get the tarp m get the shovel I was throwing 40 lb gas cans 15 feet into the woods.

    That night , I bought my helper a steak , and he said , ” Bob , when that when up I was going to run ”

    And I said, ” Trip you can’t run fast enough “.

    Reply
    • wili

       /  December 5, 2017

      unbroken…

      note the time signatures…

      Reply
    • utoutback

       /  December 5, 2017

      I think I found one of your capped drill sites our off Sheffield Rd south of Escalante. The G-S Escalante is amazing. Wonderful hiking.

      Reply
  8. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    I am the Prince of Pessimistic . I have always been wrong. Life finds a way.

    Reply
  9. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    Extreme Holiday-Season Fire Threat Puts Southern California on Edge

    https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/extreme-weeklong-fire-threat-puts-southern-california-edge

    Reply
  10. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    It’s a Tiger Tank of stupid, and money.

    Reply
  11. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    I would not follow Nancy Pelosi into a 7-11.

    Reply
  12. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    RS –

    Reply
  13. Jim

     /  December 5, 2017

    The I.D. CROZZ, first shown in Shanghai in April and subsequently updated for the Frankfurt show in September, is sized similarly to the 2018 Tiguan in a four-door coupe shape, with the interior space of a mid-size SUV. The I.D.CROZZ combines an 83 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with a pair of electric motors, one on each axle.

    DB2017AU01588_large
    DB2017AU01588_large
    With front doors that open to an unusually wide 90 degrees, rear sliding doors and the lack of a B-pillar, the CROZZ can hold a bicycle sideways behind the front seats. The rear seats offer legroom that’s comparable to a luxury car’s and fold up when needed for storage. Click to enlarge.
    The front motor generates 101 horsepower and the rear 201 hp, for a combined system output of 302 hp. This concept vehicle will offer an anticipated range of up to 300 miles.

    The 4MOTION system in the I.D. CROZZ uses the rear motor as the default driving force. The front motor can be automatically engaged when needed for traction, or it can be switched on for off-road use or snowy conditions.

    The low position of the lithium-ion battery pack also helps to improve handling with an optimum low center of gravity and 48/52 front-rear weight split. All Volkswagen I.D. vehicles will be designed to speed recharging time over today’s models, and the CROZZ recovers 80% of its charge in 30 minutes via a 150 kWh DC charger.

    As with the other Volkswagen I.D. concept vehicles, the I.D. CROZZ features the I.D. Pilot self-driving system, which Volkswagen plans to deploy in 2025. The I.D. Pilot relies on four laser scanners that pop up from the roof, as well as ultrasonic and radar sensors, side area view cameras and a front camera. The system activates either by voice control—“Hello I.D., please activate Pilot mode”—or by intentionally touching the Volkswagen logo on the steering wheel and holding it; after three seconds, the wheel retracts for self-driving mode.

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2017/11/20171128-vwev.html

    Reply
  14. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    The rape of the Earth , and women sranding up.

    Now, that is change.

    Reply
  15. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    I really hope the we are not too late.

    Reply
  16. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    Dream on old scout., I have been here since square one. We are all about the last of ideas.
    No hope, rope . Is not us. .

    Reply
  17. coloradobob

     /  December 5, 2017

    “After the Warming” James Burke 1-2

    Reply
  18. Andy_in_SD

     /  December 5, 2017

    Fast-moving brush fire explodes to at least 10,000 acres in Ventura County, triggering evacuations and power outages

    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-school-fire-20171204-story.html

    Reply
  19. Abel Adamski

     /  December 5, 2017

    A relevant article which may have been posted previously which does also include link to Part 2
    https://thebiggestlieevertold.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/part-1-expose-the-2%C2%BA-death-dance-%E2%80%93-the-1%C2%BA-cover-up/

    [Part 1] Exposé | The 2º Death Dance – The 1º Cover-up
    December 10, 2010
    Exposé | The 2º Death Dance – The 1º Cover-up
    Part one of an investigative report.
    By Cory Morningstar
    December 10, 2010
    Published in Huntington News, December 18th, 2010 http://bit.ly/hV0ZAr

    “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

    Behind every tragedy there is a story. This story is non-fiction and begins in the 1980’s. It involves the Rockefeller funded Villach conferences, the entrance of the neoclassical economists, propaganda, and most importantly the disappearance of the 1ºC temperature threshold cited as the safe limit in 1990 by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases.

    Like so many stories there was a villain. In this story, the villain’s name was ‘Insatiable Greed’ – like the Agent Smith virus, uploaded into ‘the Matrix’, Insatiable Greed was a terminating virus capable of multiplying.

    Insatiable Greed was warned by the United Nations working group that “ beyond 1ºC there might be “rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” He was also warned that a 2ºC increase was “viewed as an upper limit beyond which the risks of grave damage to ecosystems, and of non-linear responses, are expected to increase rapidly.” Non-linear in this case means runway climate change.

    Earth and her inhabitants would clearly be threatened if the 1ºC threshold was to be exceeded. However, Insatiable Greed, did not listen. Insatiable Greed dismissed the wise advice – only interested in knowing how much further destruction could be continued before the Earth would reach her maximum limit where catastrophe would be unavoidable. Being the virus he was, Insatiable Greed used the tools available to successfully infect and multiply – effectively burying the initial warning of 1ºC, thus ensuring the Earth’s inhabitants would believe the extremely dangerous threshold of 2ºC would be safe. This is the story.

    2008: Hansen – Where should Humanity Aim?

    A further imbalance reduction, and thus CO2 ~300-325 ppm, may be needed to restore sea ice to its area of 25 years ago.

    Assessment of Target CO2

    PhenomenonTarget CO2(ppm)

    1. Arctic Sea Ice 300-325

    2. Ice Sheets/Sea Level 300-350

    3. Shifting Climatic Zones 300-350

    4. Alpine Water Supplies 300-350

    5. Avoid Ocean Acidification 300-350

    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2008/2008_Hansen_etal.pdf

    2010: Hansen: French National Assembly May 2010

    Assessment of Target CO2

    PhenomenonTarget CO2 (ppm)

    1. Arctic Sea Ice 300-350

    2. Ice Sheets/Sea Level 300-350

    3. Shifting Climatic Zones 300-350

    4. Alpine Water Supplies 300-350

    5. Avoid Ocean Acidification 300-350

    Reply
  20. Abel Adamski

     /  December 5, 2017

    Part 2
    http://www.theartofannihilation.com/part-ii-expose-the-2%c2%ba-death-dance-the-1%c2%ba-cover-up/

    Bolivia Versus the World

    “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable …” – George Orwell

    11 December 2010. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 in Cancún, Mexico.

    Bolivia repeatedly opposes attempts to pass the text. Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, Pablo Solon, objects on the grounds that the draft proposals are far too lax to stop global warming. Solon stands his ground until conference chair Patricia Espinosa bangs the gavel at 3:31 a.m. saying: “The objections and complaints will be noted duly.”

    A key clause of United Nations rules is that all agreements must be reached in harmony. However, Espinosa seems to have a very broad interpretation of this rule. Harmony, Espinosa stated, does not necessarily mean unanimity. Despite the lack of unanimity, Espinosa approves the text, which includes a deadly 2-degree limit for global warming. The negotiators and heads of state cheer like ravenous hyenas, drowning out Bolivia with rapturous applause. Bolivia stood alone, strenuously opposing the pyrrhic victory.

    The overruling of Bolivia’s position demonstrates the clear disdain and callous disregard for vulnerable countries who refuse to be coerced – reflected clearly by the jettisoned UN principle of consensus. This clear abuse of the framework agreement on climate protection would never have been attempted or tolerated if the state in opposition had been a rich, powerful state such as the United States or the European Union (EU). (One may recall COP13 in Bali – American resistance stood in the way of an agreement. Papua New Guinea had to suggest that they “lead or get out of the way” before the US would join the consensus.) Bolivia, the world leader in the battle on climate change, has vowed to file a complaint with the International Court of Justice against the text approved in Cancún.

    A primary reason why Bolivia opposed the so-called Cancún “agreements” was the fact that the 2ºC target – identified as extremely dangerous – completely disregards the climate science as well as the accelerating climate impacts and climate feedbacks already happening today.

    Reply
  21. Abel Adamski

     /  December 5, 2017

    A couple of interesting articles re Carbon Capture
    https://qz.com/1144298/humanitys-fight-against-climate-change-is-failing-one-technology-can-change-that/

    Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that.

    Reply
  22. Abel Adamski

     /  December 5, 2017

    Another point of view on Carbon Capture
    https://cleantechnica.com/2017/12/04/carbon-capture-essential-limiting-global-warming-no-one-knows-much-will-cost/

    While we focus our attention on electric cars and renewable energy, and celebrate advances in both, the truth is that humanity must not only figure out how to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere but also how to remove much of what is already there. The technology for doing so does not exist today and even if it did, the cost of implementing it would be enormous. We are digging our graves with every drop of fossil fuel we burn, but don’t know how to stop.

    Reply
    • bostonblorp

       /  December 5, 2017

      As much as I love reading about massive solar farms coming online, the rise of electric cars, and so on those developments don’t mean much unless we start seeing radical change in the make-up of global energy supplies. So far fossil fuels are ~80% of the mix – pretty much exactly where they were 30 years.

      https://qz.com/1144207/the-worlds-astonishing-dependence-on-fossil-fuels-hasnt-changed-in-40-years/

      We still don’t get it. Even in “enlightened” Mass a few well-heeled folks (Kennedy family included) managed to kill the Cape Wind project despite 80% public support.

      As the saying goes – a lack of long-term planning has resulted in a lot of short-term planning. The pinball-machine of crises awaits the longer humanity dithers.

      Reply
      • Incorrect in some respects. The percentage of fossil fuels in the mix is starting to fall. But it does need to fall faster.

        Through 2014, rate of renewables growth outgrew energy demand by about 1 percent. However, following 2014, rate of modern renewables growth has doubled even as fossil fuels in the power sector have shrunk. EVs mean that fossil fuels in the transport sector is about to take a hit as well.

        We are in a situation now where renewables are a primary feature enabling carbon emission reduction. The primary feature long term. Efficiency gains and everything else adds on top of it. But rapidly adding renewables changes the base line. And that’s what you need to aim at if you’re looking at rapidly reducing carbon emissions.

        We are in a place right now where the high rate of renewable add has the potential to generate systemic reduction in global carbon emission going forward. Whether it happens in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 or even earlier is critical to final warming.

        Reply
  23. Andy_in_SD

     /  December 5, 2017

    More than 150 structures destroyed, 27,000 people evacuated in raging Ventura wildfire

    A fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into the city of Ventura early Tuesday, burning 31,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate.

    At least 150 structures — including at least one large apartment complex — were consumed by flames, and many more were threatened as the fire crept about a quarter-mile away from City Hall.

    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-school-fire-20171204-story.html

    Reply
  24. We are usually told how much the seas will rise by the end of this century. Most people who are adults today do not care so much as they will not be alive then. Sort of Ho hum. Best to predict what will happen in 20 or thirty years. That may get them thinking.

    Reply

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