The fastest-melting glacier in the South Pole is still melting. But it is not just because of the global warming reasons that have been previously cited.
Another possible explanation for why this giant ice stream in western Antarctica is collapsing is that there just happens to be a source of volcanic heat beneath the Pine Island Glacier.
A group of scientists from the University of Rhode Island discovered the noble gas Helium-3, indicating a volcanic heat source, underneath the Pine Island Glacier, according to The Daily Caller.
“When you find helium-3, it’s like a fingerprint for volcanism. We found that it is relatively abundant in the seawater at the Pine Island shelf,” chemical oceanographer Brice Loose said in a statement.
“The volcanic heat sources were found beneath the fastest moving and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier. It is losing mass the fastest.”
However, the scientists said in their study that this does not mean that volcanism is the main source of mass loss on the glacier. The volcanic heat source is just another factor to consider with ice sheet stability.
“The discovery of volcanoes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet means that there is an additional source of heat to melt the ice, lubricate its passage toward the sea, and add to the melting from warm ocean waters. It will be important to include this in our efforts to estimate whether the Antarctic ice sheet might become unstable and further increase sea level rise,” Professor Karen Heywood from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K., said.
But Loose insists that climate change is still the main factor: “Climate change is causing the bulk of glacial melt that we observe, and this newly discovered source of heat is having an as-yet-undetermined effect, because we do not know how this heat is distributed beneath the ice sheet.”
In a 2016 study, the British Antarctic Survey found that the Pine Island Glacier actually began warming in the 1940s during El Niño activity. And even when the global average surface temperature cooled, the glacier continued to melt.
“A significant implication of our findings is that once an ice sheet retreat is set in motion it can continue for decades, even if what started gets no worse,” NASA’s Bob Bindschadler said after observing data that showed 1944 was the warmest year on record until 1980.
Last month, a study found that the rate of the melting ice in the Antarctic has increased recently, “but critics said that work did not take into account modeling errors of the movement of the Earth beneath the ice sheets,” The Daily Caller reported.
Although scientists seem to agree about the melting of West Antarctica, NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally said that “East Antarctica is still gaining mass. That’s where we disagree.”
No matter what, there seems to be a lot of different accounts of why these glaciers are melting — more than just the typical global warming narrative.
If there is a volcano sitting underneath the Pine Island Glacier, I wonder how many other forces could be unknown contributing factors to the melting glaciers.
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