Antartica Is Getting Taller—And That Could Help Humans Delay Global Warming
It seems that Antarctica is a much stranger place than anyone—especially the scientists who study it—ever expected.
Apart from discovering an area undergoing constant earthquakes and watching a 900-mile-long chunk of ice detach from the continent's coast, scientists had found that the bedrock beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is rapidly rising at a rate of 1.6 inches a year, and will only accelerate in the coming decades.
Aside from being incredibly fast, this rise in bedrock may actually forestall the devastating rise of the world's oceans due to melting Antarctic ice.
First, though, let's deal with the phenomenon of the rapidly rising bedrock.
Decades ago, the WAIS had tons and tons of ice covering it, which weighed down on the bedrock like a mountain.
As the ice began to melt, however, the weight slowly lifted, allowing that portion of the Earth to rise as well.
Scientists expected the rise would be relatively small and insignificant, but it turns out that the Earth's mantle, the viscous ocean of molten rock that lies underneath the crust, may be more fluid underneath the WAIS than they predicted.
According to Terry Wilson, a lead author on the new study:
"We previously thought uplift would occur over thousands of years at a very slow rate, not enough to have a stabilizing effect on the ice sheet. Our results suggest the stabilizing effect may only take decades."
Wilson also added, "The rate of uplift we found is unusual and very surprising. It's a game changer."
In fact, over the next century, the rise in Antarctic bedrock may be enough to offset the ice loss and stabilize the oceans, despite previous estimates that the WAIS was unsalvageable. All of this revolves around the concept of "pinning points": parts Antarctica that pin the ice to the rock of the continent.
According to Wilson:
"The lowering of the sea level, the rising of pinning points and the decrease of the inland slope due to the uplift of the bedrock are all feedbacks that can stabilize the ice sheet."
Considering that the decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone can account for a four-foot rise in the world's oceans, this new development may mean that humanity is not quite as doomed as we thought.