Science. Polar melting also changes the Earth’s crust

09-22-2021 Melting of a river on a glacier in Greenland Research Policy and Technology IMAGGEO

Madrid, 22 (European Press)

Melting polar ice is changing not only the levels of our oceans, but the planet as well, according to a Harvard University study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

As glacial ice melts in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic islands, the Earth’s crust under these land masses twists, an effect that can be measured hundreds and possibly thousands of kilometers away.

“Scientists have done a lot of work directly under the ice sheets and glaciers,” Dr. Sophie Coulson, of Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in a statement. “So they knew it would mark the area where the glaciers were, but they didn’t realize it was something on a global scale.”

By analyzing satellite data on melt from 2003 to 2018 and studying changes in Earth’s crust, Coulson and colleagues were able to measure crust displacement horizontally. The new research, also highlighted in Nature, found that in some places the crust was moving more horizontally than it does. In addition to the astonishing extent of its scope, the Nature report notes, this research offers a potential new way to monitor recent changes in glacier mass.

To understand how melting ice affects what’s underneath, Coulson suggested imagining the system on a small scale: “Think of a slab of wood floating over a basin of water. When you push the slab down, the water below will be moving toward. If you pick it up, you’ll see the water moving vertically to fill that space.” “.

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These movements have an effect on the continuous thawing. “In some parts of Antarctica, for example, rebounding from the crust is altering the slope of the underlying rock under the ice sheet, and this can affect the dynamics of the ice,” Coulson said.

Earth nappies come from the end of the last ice age

The current melt is the latest movement the researchers are monitoring. “The Arctic is an interesting region because in addition to recent ice sheets, we also have a permanent sign of the last ice age,” Coulson explained. An ice sheet covered what is now northern Europe and Scandinavia during the Pleistocene, an ice age that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,000 years ago. “The Earth is actually still recovering from the melting ice.”

“In modern time scales, we think of the Earth as a flexible structure, like a rubber band, while on time scales of thousands of years, the Earth acts like a very slowly moving fluid.” Coulson said, explaining how these new repercussions intertwine with the old echoes. “Ice age processes take a long time to develop, so we can still see their results to this day.”

The implications of this step are far-reaching. “Understanding all of the factors that cause crustal movement is really important for a wide range of Earth science problems. For example, to accurately monitor tectonic motions and seismic activity, we need to be able to separate this motion from the current loss of ice mass.”

Coulson continues her research as a postdoctoral fellow director at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the climate group working on future projections of ice sheets and ocean dynamics.

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