The Ross Ice Shelf is very thick that using IcePod was necessary as traditional ship-based methods wouldn’t help. Published in Nature Geoscience on May 27, the researchers discovered an area halfway through the ice shelf suddenly drove IcePod’s magnetic field measurements wild. The team found a previously unmapped segment of the geological boundary between East and West Antarctica.
To model the shape of the seabed underneath the ice shelf, the researchers used gravity field measurements. Soon enough, they discovered that the boundary has a profound effect on the overlying ice shelf, approximately the size of Spain.
“We could see that the geological boundary was making the seafloor on the East Antarctic side much deeper than the West, and that affects the way the ocean water circulates under the ice shelf,” lead author Kirsty Tinto, the Columbia University research scientist who led all three field expeditions, said in a statement.
Ocean currents affect the rate of thawing of the ice above, which eventually, will impact the Planet Earth. The Ross Ice Shelf helps slow down the flow of about one-fifth of the ice that rests on the southernmost continent, IFL Science reports. Imagine, if all of that ice melt then the world’s sea level will rise by over 11 meters (38 feet).
The researchers also used computer simulations to figure out how the new discovery impacts underwater currents. Little warm water reaches the ice shelf but cold water currents can reach the deeper portions of East Antarctica’s glaciers, causing them to melt, according to Live Science. The newly discovered boundary stops these currents so it’s safe to say that West Antarctica’s glaciers are safe for now. However, they also discovered that the front of the Ice Shelf is at risk.
“We found that the ice loss from the Ross Ice Shelf and flow of the adjoining grounded ice are sensitive to changes in processes along the ice front, such as increased summer warming if sea ice or clouds decrease,” said Laurie Padman, a co-author and senior scientist at Earth and Space Research.
As climate change continues and world leaders fail to seriously discuss the crisis, Antarctica will eventually disappear. At the moment, regions of the Ross Ice Shelf are melting 10 times faster than expected.