More settled science: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is 20 million years older than thought

icesheets[1]From the University of California – Santa Barbara

West Antarctica ice sheet existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– The results of research conducted by professors at UC Santa Barbara and colleagues mark the beginning of a new paradigm for our understanding of the history of Earth’s great global ice sheets. The research shows that, contrary to the popularly held scientific view, an ice sheet on West Antarctica existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought.

The findings indicate that ice sheets first grew on the West Antarctic subcontinent at the start of a global transition from warm greenhouse conditions to a cool icehouse climate 34 million years ago. Previous computer simulations were unable to produce the amount of ice that geological records suggest existed at that time because neighboring East Antarctica alone could not support it. The findings were published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Given that more ice grew than could be hosted only on East Antarctica, some researchers proposed that the missing ice formed in the northern hemisphere, many millions of years before the documented ice growth in that hemisphere, which started about 3 million years ago. But the new research shows it is not necessary to have ice hosted in the northern polar regions at the start of greenhouse-icehouse transition.

Earlier research published in 2009 and 2012 by the same team showed that West Antarctica bedrock was much higher in elevation at the time of the global climate transition than it is today, with much of its land above sea level. The belief that West Antarctic elevations had always been low lying (as they are today) led researchers to ignore it in past studies. The new research presents compelling evidence that this higher land mass enabled a large ice sheet to be hosted earlier than previously realized, despite a warmer ocean in the past.

“Our new model identifies West Antarctica as the site needed for the accumulation of the extra ice on Earth at that time,” said lead author Douglas S. Wilson, a research geophysicist in UCSB’s Department of Earth Science and Marine Science Institute. “We find that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet first appeared earlier than the previously accepted timing of its initiation sometime in the Miocene, about 14 million years ago. In fact, our model shows it appeared at the same time as the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet some 20 million years earlier.”

Wilson and his team used a sophisticated numerical ice sheet model to support this view. Using their new bedrock elevation map for the Antarctic continent, the researchers created a computer simulation of the initiation of the Antarctic ice sheets. Unlike previous computer simulations of Antarctic glaciation, this research found the nascent Antarctic ice sheet included substantial ice on the subcontinent of West Antarctica. The modern West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains about 10 percent of the total ice on Antarctica and is similar in scale to the Greenland Ice Sheet.

West Antarctica and Greenland are both major players in scenarios of sea level rise due to global warming because of the sensitivity of the ice sheets on these subcontinents. Recent scientific estimates conclude that global sea level would rise an average of 11 feet should the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt. This amount would add to sea level rise from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (about 24 feet).

The UCSB researchers computed a range of ice sheets that consider the uncertainty in the topographic reconstructions, all of which show ice growth on East and West Antarctica 34 million years ago. A surprising result is that the total volume of ice on East and West Antarctica at that time could be more than 1.4 times greater than previously realized and was likely larger than the ice sheet on Antarctica today.

“We feel it is important for the public to know that the origins of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are under increased scrutiny and that scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth’s climate now and in the past,” concluded co-author Bruce Luyendyk, UCSB professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science and research professor at the campus’s Earth Research Institute.

###

Other co-authors include David Pollard of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania State University, Robert M. DeConto of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Stewart S.R. Jamieson of the Department of Geography at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

The National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs and the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council supported this research.

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Gee, you mean the models are wrong? Again?
What a surprise.
Meanwhile, looks as if Arctic sea ice this year will register the highest low extent since 2006.
It must really suck to be a CACA scamster these days.

“The belief that West Antarctic elevations had always been low lying (as they are today) led researchers to ignore it in past studies. ”
So … researchers didn’t believe massive amounts of ice could depress the ground? Sounds like the author of a recent WUWT article was not alone …
🙂

M Courtney

Forgive my scepticism but I’m not even sure we know how glaciers form.
OK so snow lasts all year round.
But is it from snow and continuous low temps, hail storms leaving a different albedo level, wind replenishing melted snow from other reservoirs…?
How do you model that when their are so many potential mechanisms and so few observations of glaciers being seeded?

Janice Moore

We feel it is important for the public to know that the origins of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are under increased scrutiny and that scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth’s climate now and in the past… .

Why?
(I am, btw, genuinely asking this question — hope someone can take the time to answer)

SandyInLimousin

M Courtney
I suggest keeping an eye on here, if things start getting very much colder then there could be examples here to watch.
http://www.edwardboyle.com/perennial_snow_resources.html

Eustace Cranch

Great work, researchers… but try not to wake up any Shoggoths.

Wyguy

As soon as I read the word model, I quit reading.

Pathway

Where is the empirical evidence. It’s nice that they have a model that says so, but how do we know without any measurements?

Janice Moore says:
September 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
For “catastrophic” sea level rise to be plausible before reaching CO2 equilibrium at lower levels, CACA needs both the Greenland & West Antarctic Ice Sheets magically to disappear. Even CACA kooks recognize that the massive 34 million year-old East Antarctic Ice Sheet isn’t going away any time soon.

RHS

M Courtney – Glaciers form when there are years of snow fall build up which do not melt. Which leads to a thick ice sheet. At roughly 40 acres, the ice mass is considered a glacier. During the build up, air is either forced out due to pressure or the snow accumulates so quickly little air is trapped. The lack of air gives glaciers their blue coloring. At least according to the National Park Service. We’re more likely to see glacier growth rather than new glaciers. It is kind of difficult to get the kind of precipitation needed to seed/create a new glacier.
For example, the glaciers in Glacier National Park in in Alaska originate nearly 70 miles from the face we see. Their origination point receives nearly 100 feet of snow/year. It is the sheer pressure from this accumulation which causes the growth of the glacier. Hubbard Glacier is one such example.

Janice Moore

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Milodon Harlani.

Mike Smith

@Wyguy: As soon as I read the word model, I quit reading.
Like so many of these so called studies it’s just a hypothesis that is supported by a model. The model, of course, is little more than the same basic hypothesis expressed in computer code.
Our model (hypothesis) supports our hypothesis so the science is settled. QED and alert the Nobel committee!
I need to run outside and scream now….

Duster

Janice Moore says:
September 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
We feel it is important for the public to know that the origins of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are under increased scrutiny and that scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth’s climate now and in the past… .
Why?
(I am, btw, genuinely asking this question — hope someone can take the time to answer)

One of the unassailable facts of climate science is that if the models do not work – and they do not – then you do not know how climate operates. You may have a collection things that you know must influence climate – e.g. the physical properties of H2O vapour and CO2 both store and transport energy. The failed models though show that the facts you are in possession of are either not properly understood.
The why and how of the WAIS is one of those points where the models are under question. Showing the WAIS to have greater age than previously thought offers insights into what we do NOT know. The data that is available indicates that the current “ice age” – we are in an interstadial at present – started during the early Pleistocene with comparatively short, sharp climate oscillations. During the last half-million years or so, that changed with planet becoming colder and with much longer spans between warm interstadials. Knowing more about what is not known offers indications – big neon signs really – of where to look for new information.

M Courtney

Thanks RHS.
I agree that is how glaciers grow. I’ve read about it and know we have seen examples.
But it is the seeding and origination of glaciers that puzzles me. (Which is relevant to his paper).
Years of snow fall build up which do not melt is the first option I suggested, but I also added two others off the top of my head that could cause them to form. My dots before the question mark indicated that there may be other possible mechanisms too.
And I honestly do not know that the repeated failure of winter snows to melt is the proven form of glacier formation. It may just be the simplest idea. If other mechanisms are quicker then that form of glacier formation may have never actually occurred.

tadchem

Non-geologists often have trouble breaking the “rock is rigid” paradigm because the abundance of experience is at small scales (100 m) however, rock is elastic. It bends under stress, it stretches under strain, and because it is floating on a fluid mantle, it sags under weight. Under enough weight it will sink like an overloaded raft. The basic malleability of rock is often ignored by climatologists and other non-scientists. This renders all ‘mean sea level’ measurements over extended periods of time essentially meaningless with respect to indicating the total volume of water in all the world’s oceans.

Janice Moore

(I am cringing as I write this in anticipation at the scorching retort it will elicit from M. Harlani, but…. here goes)
Re: my post at 11:47am today, re-wording my question to make it more meaningful:
Q. How (specifically) does what the above article says potentially help the CAGW gang?
(I am really not getting how this could possibly help their abysmally weak case — thank you for helping me understand, somebody?)

Nice story, but what happened to the scientific method? Remember Richard Feynman, you start off with a guess. This is a guess, model or not. Then you check your guess against reality and find Scherer et al 1998:
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/281/5373/82
Abstract quote:
“Some glacial sediment samples recovered from beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet at ice stream B contain Quaternary diatoms and up to 108 atoms of beryllium-10 per gram. Other samples contain no Quaternary diatoms and only background levels of beryllium-10 (less than 106 atoms per gram). The occurrence of young diatoms and high concentrations of beryllium-10 beneath grounded ice indicates that the Ross Embayment was an open marine environment after a late Pleistocene collapse of the marine ice sheet. “
And thus should join all all great tragedies of science, a beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

Janice Moore says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm
You’re welcome, but please also see Duster @ 1208.
Radionuclides in the periglacial soil of the EAIS show that it hasn’t retreated for at least 3000 years, ie since the end of the Minoan Warm Period, after which Earth has been in a long-term (ie, secular) cooling trend, with ever colder warming, as now, & cooling cycles, headed inexorably out of the current interglacial toward the next glacial phase.
PS: Our planet is about 4.55 billion years old, not 7000. To imagine the latter, you have to reject every scientific discipline, to include astronomy, physics & chemistry, not just biology & geology.

Mark Hladik

A quick perusal of available charts at www (dot) globalwarmingart (dot) com shows that this continental ice sheet formed at a time when the “average” global temperature was somewhat warmer than it is now.
So, I am being asked to believe that a paltry rise of 1 degree C (give or take) is going to cause an entire ice sheet to go … … ….. POOOOOOF !?!?!?!?!?
Sidebar: thanks for letting me know that Global Warming Art was back on-line, Anthony. Just before it disappeared a couple years ago, I was getting ready to ask WUWT’ers to archive as much of their data as possible, just in case they wised up the the fact that much of their data/charts contradicted belief in CAGW. Dare we take the chance on the website disappearing again?
Best regards to all,
Mark H.

leftturnandre says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm
You have misunderstood the import of the paper.
No one doubts that ice sheets fluctuate. The WAIS, as do all ice sheets, waxes & wanes. Its marine portion probably was smaller in the past. But that’s beside the point.
The portion of it on land is shown here (arguably) to have formed much earlier than previously thought, when of course the continental crust rode higher on the mantle.

Janice Moore says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm
It doesn’t help CACA. It hurts it in at least two ways, IMO.
1) The GIGO GCMs are yet again shown (possibly) faulty, &
2) The WAIS might be far more persistent & formed at much higher CO2 concentration than formerly conjectured. If so, it’s harder to melt completely, making reasonably potential sea rise under worst case scenario nearly impossible to attain, unless our current interglacial last tens of thousands more years.

Golden

The universe is always getting older than we thought with each study – never younger – always proving the previously “popularly held scientific view” wrong. We might ask why should we believe you this time?

Americans need to Pass this Constitutional amendment and it will stop all this wasteful spending on buying a predetermined result . . Government paid E=GREEN religious dogma . . End the EPA . . and the IRS they will have no money to bribe scientists.
http://articlevprojecttorestoreliberty.com/article-v.html

Tom G(ologist)

And the answer is………ISOSTACY!!!!

Janice Moore:
This is my attempt to answer your question in your post at September 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/09/04/more-settled-science-the-west-antarctic-ice-sheet-is-20-million-years-older-than-thought/#comment-1407820
I will try to spell it out.
1.
The greatest asserted potential problem from AGW is rapid sea level rise.
2.
Rapid sea level rise requires Antarctic ice to enter the sea either as solid ice or melted ice from the land.
3.
The melting is impossible: it would take millennia.
4.
The ice sliding into the sea is extremely improbable according to existing understanding.
5.
Anything which provides doubt to existing understanding of the ice behaviour reduces the certainty that the ice cannot slide into the sea.
6.
The AGW scare requires that the public be scared by risks.
7.
Hence, the statement which you query; viz

We feel it is important for the public to know that the origins of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are under increased scrutiny and that scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth’s climate now and in the past… .

Please note the language of the statement.
They “feel” but do not know any reason for it to be important to tell the public.
The “origins” of the WAIS are “under increased scrutiny” because there are things we need to know.
And “scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth’s climate now and in the past” which implies the uncertainty about WAIS behaviour applies to NOW.
In other words, this gives them an excuse to say the WAIS could induce rapid sea level rise although there is good reason to think it cannot.
This is called spin.
Richard

Colorado Wellington

This doesn’t mean anything. I want to hear from Cook et al what is believed by 97 percent of scientists.

Golden says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm
The universe is always getting older than we thought with each study – never younger – always proving the previously “popularly held scientific view” wrong. We might ask why should we believe you this time?
——————————-
Estimates of the age of the earth & universe aren’t based upon popularity, but geology, chemistry, astronomy & physics.
The best estimate of the age of the earth has remained 4.54 to 4.55 billion years at least since 1956, confirmed & reconfirmed by a variety of methods & measurements since then.
Before the discovery of radioactivity, estimates by 19th century physicists based upon the cooling of the planet from its original molten state gave ages less than 100 million years, but biologists & geologists knew this had to be wrong. Eventually nuclear physicists agreed with the them against the prior purely thermodynamic physicists.
The physics of the sun confirms radioactive dating of the earth & other solar system bodies like asteroids, measured in meteorites.
Estimates for the age of the universe have likewise remained in a narrow range since convincing evidence of the Big Bang in 1965. Various methods provide estimates with fairly small margins of error from ~13.7 to 14.5 billion years.
Between 1929, when the universe was discovered definitely to have a finite age, & 1965, estimates varied more widely, ranging up to 25 billion years.
In the late 18th century some geologists, like Hutton, thought it possible that the earth was infinite in age. In the early 20th century, some physicists thought the universe might be infinitely old.
So you’re wrong.

george e. smith

“”””””……And I honestly do not know that the repeated failure of winter snows to melt is the proven form of glacier formation. It may just be the simplest idea. If other mechanisms are quicker then that form of glacier formation may have never actually occurred…….””””””
We have quite robust observational evidence, that when winter snows melt completely in the spring/summer, the rate of formation of glaciers is quite low.
This has led to conjectures that glacier formation is more frequent when winter snows do not completely met in the spring/summer months.
As for the subject matter of this new thesis, I’d be a lot happier, if they actually had physical samples of the glacial ice that formed 20 million years earlier.
But if well known thick ice cores are only about 800,000 years old or less, it would seem that the 20 megayear ice already ran down to the coast and horrified everybody/thing/whatever, by breaking off and falling into the southern ocean.
I’m open to hearing them out; but that word model does cause a buzzing in my ears.

george e. smith

“””””……milodonharlani says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm
Golden says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm
The universe is always getting older than we thought with each study – never younger – always proving the previously “popularly held scientific view” wrong. We might ask why should we believe you this time?……”””””
Well that’s a well known fact; if the universe was not getting older al the time, that would suggest that time might be running backwards.
I know the part of the universe I live in, is getting older, all the time, and more decrepid too.

There is yet another problem with such early ice sheet, possibly conflicting with other ideas. I’m not chosing sides but I’m merely pointing out.
It is believed that the volume of ice is reflected in oxygen isotopes of benthic foraminifera shells. As lighter isotopes evaporate more easily than heavy isotopes, the ocean tends to get enriched in heavier oxygen (in water) isotopes, when that water does not return but accumulates in ice sheets. That’s the basin effect
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Paleoclimatology_OxygenBalance/
Now we know that the oxygen isotopes in the benthic shells started the great enrichment only some 3.5 million years ago: http://www.lorraine-lisiecki.com/stack.html
I’m not sure if we can balance the ice volume /LR04 benthic stack but I would expect that there would be some tension between a huge early WAIS and the bentic isotopes/ice volume theory/hypothesis.

george e. smith says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm
The scary part is that it’s not only getting older & more tenuous all the time, but that the aging appears to be speeding up!

DC Cowboy

What? I thought that was the ‘consensus’ view? How could it be wrong? Isn’t the ‘consensus’ ALWAYS right? I mean, if 97% of ‘scientists’ agree, it can’t possibly be wrong, can it?

leftturnandre says:
September 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Stratigraphy has long indicated an ancient age for the WAIS, although more like 25 than 34 Ma.
Anderson, J. B. & Bartek, L. R. Cenozoic glacial history of the Ross sea revealed by intermediate
resolution seismic reflection data combined with drill site information. Antarctic Res. Ser. 56, 231–
263 (1992).
Shipp, J. et al. High- to intermediate-resolution seismic stratigraphic analysis of mid–late-Miocene
to Pleistocene strata in eastern Ross sea: implications for changing glacial/climatic regime. Terra
Antarctica 1, 381–384 (1994).
But the alternative hasn’t been Pleistocene age, but rather nine million years ago on the younger estimate, based upon analysis of deep-sea sediments.
Kennett, J. P. & Barker, P. F. Proc. Ocean Drilling Prog. 113, 937–960 (1990).
Kennett, J. P. & Hodell, D. A. Evidence for relative climatic stability of Antarctica during the early
Pliocene: a marine perspective. Geografiska Annaler 75 A, 205–220 (1993).
Naturally it got larger during the Pleistocene, however, advancing in glacial phases & receding in interglacials, as now.

Golden

milodonharlani says:
I was using the term universe very broadly here to include dating of all things within, including the earth’s geology, since the article was about the Antartic ice sheet, and I used the term “popularity” since that is a direct quote from the article.
Your quote did not prove me wrong. It proved me right upto 1965 about the universe as a whole. And now you’ve only shown that there is a general consensus about the universe. But a consensus now does not prove me wrong because to do so would mean you cannot predict in the future someone is not going to say the “popularly held scientific view” is wrong as this article has.

Golden says:
September 4, 2013 at 1:16 pm
You were wrong to assert without any basis whatsoever that science says “the universe is always getting older than we thought with each study – never younger – always proving the previously “popularly held scientific view” wrong. We might ask why should we believe you this time?”
Each study most certainly does not always find the universe older than previously thought. As I showed, estimates from 1929 to 1965 declined from infinite to 25 billion years to the present ~14 billion years. Since 1965, the estimate has varied only slightly, & not always higher.
So, you were as wrong as wrong could be.
I’d urge you to study a topic before presuming to comment upon it.

mkelly

milodonharlani says:
September 4, 2013 at 12:52 p m “…since convincing evidence of the Big Bang in 1965…”
What was the convincing evidence?

mkelly:
re your question at September 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm.
The discovery of the microwave background radiation was the “compelling evidence” which induced adoption of Big Bang and rejection of Steady State universe theories.
Can we now return to the subject of the age of the WAIS, please?
Richard

Gary Pearse

“In fact, our model shows it appeared at the same time as the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet some 20 million years earlier.”
Really! This is a discovery? With the massive EAIS next door, was it believed that things were balmy in W. Antarctica. I’m from Manitoba and I noticed that when we get winter it also gets cold and snowy in Ontario and Saskatchewan on either side. When I got older, I found it also happened in Quebec and Alberta and the Maritimes and the Northwest Territories and the Yukon and Alaska. Later, I found out the timing was about the same in Russia, too!! I’m a geologist so I suppose I should have been aware of this thinking on geographic split in the climate of Antarctica and I might have fixed this for them 50 years ago. Anyway geology is a big subject.

mkelly says:
September 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm
Discovery of the cosmic background microwave radiation of three K.
Not just convincing, but dispositive (unless the finding resulted from bird droppings on the horn antenna being used as radiotelescope).
The observation has since been noted repeatedly.

David L.

So a new computer model claims the older computer models are wrong?

“(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– The results of research conducted by professors at UC Santa Barbara and colleagues mark the beginning of a new paradigm for our understanding of the history of Earth’s great global ice sheets. The research shows that, contrary to the popularly held scientific view, an ice sheet on West Antarctica existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought.”
“A new paradigm” – let’s translate. That just means, “reach for your wallet, a small cabal (community) of ideologues (researchers) are about to have a very private party. They will decide for everyone else what is to be observed, what questions are asked, and how to interpret results.”
It’s called a “structured revolution.” And, what an awkward situation, it appears you are not invited.
The AGW theory is a perfect example of Kuhn’s paradigm shift in action. As long as the experts do not acknowledge a better paradigm, they do not have to question or doubt their own paradigm. And of course, you can see in the process of the paradigm shift that the incommensurate people, theories, and realities are deliberately left out of the paradigm shift in the first place.

Janice Moore

Dear Mr. Harlani, Duster, and Mr. Courtney,
THANK YOU!
All of your tutoring was helpful and this clinched it for me:

The WAIS might be far more persistent & formed at much higher CO2 concentration than formerly conjectured. If so, it’s harder to melt completely, making reasonably potential sea rise under worst case scenario nearly impossible to attain, … .

Milodon Harlani (at 12:33pm)
Gratefully,
Janice
P.S. You’re all pretty cool for a bunch of grumpy old men (to whom that category applies, of course)).
P.P.S. Re: exponential aging — as to your sharp minds and warrior’s hearts,
you’ve still got it. #(:))
Recorded just last year — OLD(er) GUYS, YOU ROCK!

.
.
And we still need you.

gerrydorrian66

The models would have failed Karl Poppers tests of falsifcation/fallibilism many years ago. This should be another nail in the coffin…perhaps warmism is a zombie science?

Janice Moore:
Re your comment about OLDER GUYS ROCK.
Did I tell you I can teach any lady to jive in under 90 seconds?
Yes, I really can, and it is one of the very few abilities of which I am proud.
Richard

Latitude

When do they say the ice formed??…..34 million years ago…..or 34 + 20 = 54 million years ago??
If they are saying 34 million years ago…..I thought everyone was on that same page already
http://phys.org/news172072921.html

the popularly held scientific view
Too risky to call it ‘the scientific consensus’.
greenhouse-icehouse transition
Jeez. They couldn’t resist slipping in that bit of propaganda.

Janice Moore

Well, well, well, Richard. Heh. #(:)) Good for you. And here you are, if you are at home, still up after midnight, sharp mind busily typing away.
Sleep well.
Janice

richardscourtney says:
September 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm
Speaking of jive:

Latitude says:
September 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm
The EAIS is generally considered to have formed ~34 Ma, but not the WAIS. The prior oldest estimate was ~25 Ma, but usually younger.

Brian

Just wondering how they determine which way is West?