New ice loss unit – the New Jersey

From the University of Texas at Austin, an ice shelf as big as New Jersey might collapse, if conditions are right. Tipping points and all that. I suspect this gives notice to the press that we are switching from Manhattans to New Jerseys to measure ice loss in news releases and subsequent news stories. Then it’s on to Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and finally Alaska ice loss units.

Scientists discover new site of potential instability in West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Location and Topography of New Sub-glacial Basin in West Antarctica – The bottom image shows a radar image of bedrock elevation reveals the new sub-glacial basin (purple and blue regions). The basin is divided into two components (A and B) and lies just inland of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s grounding line (black line), where streams of ice flowing toward the Weddell Sea begin to float. The top image shows a white box indicating the location of the bottom image. Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier — two parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet previously studied by the US and UK researchers — drain into the Amundsen Sea. Credit: University of Edinburgh/British Antarctic Survey

Using ice-penetrating radar instruments flown on aircraft, a team of scientists from the U.S. and U.K. have uncovered a previously unknown sub-glacial basin nearly the size of New Jersey beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) near the Weddell Sea. The location, shape and texture of the mile-deep basin suggest that this region of the ice sheet is at a greater risk of collapse than previously thought.

Team members at The University of Texas at Austin compared data about the newly discovered basin to data they previously collected from other parts of the WAIS that also appear highly vulnerable, including Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier. Although the amount of ice stored in the new basin is less than the ice stored in previously studied areas, it might be closer to a tipping point.

“If we were to invent a set of conditions conducive to retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this would be it,” said Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and co-author on the new paper. “With its smooth bed that slopes steeply toward the interior, we could find no other region in West Antarctica more poised for change than this newly discovered basin at the head of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. The only saving grace is that losing the ice over this new basin would only raise sea level by a small percentage of the several meters that would result if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet destabilized.”

The study’s co-authors also included Duncan Young, research scientist associate at the Institute for Geophysics.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, was carried out in a collaboration led by the University of Edinburgh with the British Antarctic Survey and the Universities of Aberdeen, Exeter and York, as well as The University of Texas at Austin.

“This is a significant discovery in a region of Antarctica that at present we know little about,” said Professor Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh, who led the project. “The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves.”

The seaward edge of the newly discovered basin lies just inland of the ice sheet’s grounding line, where streams of ice flowing toward the sea begin to float.

Two features of the basin, which is entirely below sea level, are particularly worrisome to scientists: First, like a cereal bowl, its edges slope down steeply. If the grounding line begins to retreat upstream, seawater will replace it and more ice will begin to float. The study’s authors predict that this positive feedback mechanism would sustain retreat of the ice sheet until eventually all of the ice filling the basin goes afloat. Second, the bed of the basin on which the ice rests is smooth. There are few big bumps, or “pinning points,” to hold back sliding ice.

The newly discovered basin covers 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), nearly the size of New Jersey, and is well below sea level, nearly 2 kilometers (about 1.2 miles) deep in places.

In a related paper published simultaneously in the journal Nature, computer models reveal that the Weddell Sea region may experience warmer ocean conditions at the end of the 21st century, which could provide the trigger for ice sheet change.

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54 thoughts on “New ice loss unit – the New Jersey

  1. If water flows in to fill this rather large basin, wouldn’t that result in the sea level lowering????

  2. Don’t know what to think about this….

    temps have been going down

    ….and there’s more ice there

  3. Sorry, the gold-standard of large area units is the “Rhode Island.” Anything else is late to the party.

    REPLY: Yes, but due to diminutive size, Rhode Island doesn’t convey alarm well, so new area proxy standards must be adopted and continually upgraded. – Anthony

  4. If we are going to honor New Jersey like this how about we do it right and name a unit after the ex Governor and start measuring the billions of dollars lost to climate alarmism in Corzines, 1 Corzine = $1.7 billion lost.

  5. “The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves.”

    Tranlation: It’s a crisis! Give us money.

  6. MarkW says:
    May 10, 2012 at 7:59 am
    If water flows in to fill this rather large basin, wouldn’t that result in the sea level lowering????

    No, not at all. Global warming would cause that water to turn into magic water vapor that cannot form into clouds, droplets or rain out of the atmosphere.

  7. I can remember during the IGY 58 that an ice burg the size of Rhode Island was spotted riding out of Antartica. So what’s new? Now it’s New Jersey size? Thinks it’s time to forget about all this silly business and move onto something important.

  8. Sorry, not buying this prediction today! That ice sheet has been sat around for a long time, and with the current expected global cooling trend it won’t move any-time soon.

    Once again computer models defy history and common sense. Perhaps they’d do better using a crystal ball – cheaper too… :-)

  9. Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and co-author on the new paper says, “The only saving grace is that losing the ice over this new basin would only raise sea level by a small percentage of the several meters that would result if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet destabilized.”

    Imprecision such as this is normally a tell-tale sign of a flim flam artist at work.

    As MarkW noted, wouldn’t ice that is below sea level be the equivalent of sea ice and therefore add nothing to sea level?

  10. Woulda coulda shoulda be a block the size of California. Those long horns just don’t want to go there.

  11. Good description except they failed to inform us, why this potential natural event, is a valid reason for alarm. Increasing polar ice inventory is what I find alarming as it is an inverse to global biomass inventory. Ice cannot be eaten nor drunk until it changes from the solid phase. It simply is not bio active. Unless massive ice loss affects sea level significantly… turn off the damn Klaxon. GK

  12. Since ice area lost is rather meaningless in sea level rise it is obvious that any reference should be to volume or better yet, mass. To honor New Jersey, the proper unit for that obviously is the Christie.

  13. In Spain the official area unit is the football field, and the official economic unit is the Cristiano Ronaldo. At least, that’s what the newspapers and other media seem to think. You see news about fires that burnt forest to an extention equivalent of X hundreths of football fields, and economic losses equivalent to the price of X Cristiano Ronaldos (a famous football player currently in Real Madrid).

  14. Meanwile Hansen doubles down the dumb in the NY Slimes Op-Ed

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/game-over-for-the-climate.html?_r=1

    Game Over for the Climate
    “GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

    If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate. …..

    …… The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.”

  15. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when ice sheets twice the size of the earth start calving off. Can’t be too far off now.

  16. A little quanitifying would be nice: how old is the ice? Then we could we could talk about what climate conditions it has survived, and maybe what conditions it could not survive. I would bet my carbon footprint I won’t live to see it float. –AGF

  17. Last paragraph (bold mine): “In a related paper published simultaneously in the journal Nature, computer models reveal that the Weddell Sea region may experience warmer ocean conditions at the end of the 21st century…

    And if not… “nevermind.”

  18. this region of the ice sheet is at a greater risk of collapse than previously thought

    But what does greater mean here?
    If the estimate used to be a 1% chance of it happening in the 10 years and the estimate has gone up to to a 1.01% chance in the same time period then the correct response is “So what?”.

    Without numbers this sort of output (journal paper? press release?) is worse than useless.

    Jim

  19. How many more if’s, might’s and maybe’s can be used in just a few sentences?
    “The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how [Austin, Texas] behaves.” Everyone else in the country gave up trying to understand Austin several decades ago. “Keep Austin wierd.”

  20. It’s all of the ice-penetrating radar that’s causing the problem. If you stop penetrating the ice it’ll never break up. Or is that Shrodinger’s ice that does that?

  21. So they just discover the ice sheet/basin and concluded “…the ice sheet is at a greater risk of collapse than previously thought.” Who did the previous thinking?

  22. This person is surely not a native Texan. Anything less than ‘the size of Texas’ is of no consequence in the worldview of a true child of the Lone Star State. :)

    I look back nostalgically to when things were measured in terms of numbers of Olympic swimming pools (volume) and football fields (area). Those were concepts the ordinary punter could grasp. I’m afraid that it is all getting too mega for the average brain to grapple with.

  23. Yawn!
    Let me know when Antarctica breaks free…

    And preferably makes a beeline for East Anglia or GISS in New York. Then that will be news, mostly good too.

  24. Using the Rhode Island scale related to eco-logic, California will not plant acrage equivelant to the size of Rhode Island this year because California courts have chosen to protect the Delta Smelt instead. California has failed to provide desalination plants to one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world but will likely leap onto the ice loss bandwagon shortly to cover their butts.

    New Jersey is right at the top of the list with California for Not-So-Smart Awards but I happen to prefer NJ’s Governor to ours.

  25. Anthony, Could you possibly show on the ice radar picture a chunk of ice that is the size of New Jersey so as to put this “ice loss” in perspective. If this section of Antarctica is an unknown area how can they make any projections about it, oh thats right MODELS. I live here in Austin and yes it is weird.

  26. Sorry, the gold-standard of large area units is the “Rhode Island.” Anything else is late to the party.

    REPLY: Yes, but due to diminutive size, Rhode Island doesn’t convey alarm well, so new area proxy standards must be adopted and continually upgraded. – Anthony

    Always with the “adjustments”!

  27. Someone from Alaska once said that if Texans didn’t stop bragging about how big everything was there then they’d split Alaska in two and Texas would then be only the 3rd largest state. 8-)
    (I did live in Texas briefly. Beautiful state.)

    As far the ice breaking, just send down a Texas-sized bottle of super glue.

  28. hum says:
    May 10, 2012 at 9:39 am
    How about just breaking off Trenton?

    Trenton’s already broke — in both senses of the word. I’m still steamed that Corzine hasn’t had to trade in his Armani suits for orange coveralls…

  29. A quasi cantilever of continental glacial ice, constantly growing due to being fed by said glaciers, projecting out into the ocean. Yes, pieces will break off of it, it is inevitable. Consider it as a crude cooling system that uses phase change. What is it doing long term to the thermal balance? Want to talk about tipping points? Let’s. How about tipping points that may end the interglacial.

  30. “This is a significant discovery in a region of Antarctica that at present we know little about,” said Professor Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh,….
    ================
    Science is fun, eh.

  31. “If we were to invent a set of conditions conducive to retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this would be it,” said Don Blankenship…

    “IF”?! I think you already did.

    This is just like the ozone hole was in the ’70s: “we just found this out and it CATASTROPHIC!!! We gotta’ stop it right now!!!!!” Riiight, who’s to say that this isn’t the “normal” state of things, since we’ve never before observed this? Isn’t it the nature of glaciers (or climate) to change, grow, recede, etc.? No? oh… right.

  32. Are these people really scientists? I think something is lacking in their reasoning.

  33. pbittle says:
    May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm
    “If we were to invent a set of conditions conducive to retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this would be it,” said Don Blankenship…

    “IF”?! I think you already did.

    This is just like the ozone hole was in the ’70s: “we just found this out and it CATASTROPHIC!!! We gotta’ stop it right now!!!!!” Riiight, who’s to say that this isn’t the “normal” state of things, since we’ve never before observed this? Isn’t it the nature of glaciers (or climate) to change, grow, recede, etc.? No? oh… right.
    =====================================================
    Lots of regulations are made to control something that was a non-problem before man could detect it.

  34. Can sea ice be seen then as a natural installator
    IE ice traps what warmth there is left in the sea and stops the sea from geting too cold.
    As seas warms up more ice melts from underneath the ice thus cooling the top water as well.
    If the ice melts completely it allows more heat to excape into the atmosphere from the sea as the
    installation is gone.
    Thus in the long term you will again get a overall cooling in the seas at which time the ice will regrow and reduce heat loss to the atmosphere. Then the seas will start to warm up again and the sea ice will melt to allow more heat to excape from the sea and thus the CYCLE gos on.
    This is the way i see it may be wrong but it makrs sense to me.

  35. As mentioned by others, the country of Wales is a popular unit of area in the UK for large areas, particularly when referring to tropical rain forests. Wembley Football pitches tend be used for smaller areas.

    Traditionally, volume is often measured in units of “Saint Paul’s Cathedral”

  36. New Jersy units or even Texas units. Scratches head with wonderment. If we are talking minature units of area then thats OK but I would really start worrying when they started using Queensland or Western Australian units and then I would know for certain that they have no idea what they are talking about.
    New Jersy 7,787 sq miles
    Texas 268,820 sq miles
    Queensland 715,309 sq miles
    Western Australia 1,021,478 sq miles

  37. So a scrap of ice a bit bigger than a Welsh football field breaks off.
    We’re (yawn) doomed.

  38. Glaciers meet the sea and calve ice burgs so what else is new??? Are they planing on sailing the Titanic II into it? Make a new horror movie the “The Ice Monster meets Frankenstein”?

  39. michael hart says:
    May 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    As mentioned by others, the country of Wales is a popular unit of area in the UK for large areas, particularly when referring to tropical rain forests. Wembley Football pitches tend be used for smaller areas.

    Traditionally, volume is often measured in units of “Saint Paul’s Cathedral”
    —————————————————
    Gosh, Michael, that sounds like another traditional Australian unit of volume, multiples of Sydney Harbour. Of course, no-one has the faintest idea of what it means.

  40. A New Jersey? You yanks and your tiny States.

    I’ve been in paddocks bigger than New Jersey.

  41. Wikipedia (yeah, I know) informs us that there’s a Great Pyramid sized chunk of ice (fresh water!) for every human on the planet in Antarctica. Of course, there are more humans now so the volume of ice is shrinking!

  42. But is the International unit “Size of Yorkshire” in English or metric units? 8<)

  43. Refering to the limited topographic map included with the article.

    First, do I understand the problem correctly? If the land of unspecified composition erodes 50km inland removing 500 meters of elevation in the process, then the ice of area the size of New Jersey but of unspecified depth is unblocked and will slide rapidly into the Wadell Sea.

    I wonder how long this situation has existed and what tipping point could possibly cause the unblocking event to happen. And if it does, what are the consequences? Somehow I can’t get too excited about this. I am, however, irritated at the thought of the money that will be wasted chasing another imaginary problem that nothing could be done about even if it existed..

  44. News flash: when there’s too much ice in the center, some falls off the edge.
    Solution: warm the planet, to melt excessive ice in the center. Except that the extra moisture in the air will increase snowfall and build up even more ice in the center! Oh, noes, it’s a mean sticky vicious viscous circle!!

    I guess we’ll just have to lie back and enjoy it.

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