The glaciers in this region were very stable but scientists have observed thinning of ice.
Scientists have measured the elevation of the Antarctic sheet made by a suite of satellites and found that the southern Antarctic Peninsula shows no sign of change up to 2009.
But in 2009, they observed that multiple glaciers along the cast coastal expanse, measuring some 750km in length, suddenly started to shed into the ocean at a constant rate of 60 cubic km or 55 trillion liters of water each year.
Dr Bert Wouters, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol said, “The fact that so many glaciers in such a large region suddenly started to lose ice came as a surprise to us, It shows a very fast response of the ice sheet: in just a few years the dynamic regime completely shifted.”
Scientists believe that this rapid ice loss is due to warming of oceans and changes in snowfall patterns and oceans have also been noted by the researchers.
Wouters said, “Many of the glaciers in the region feed into ice shelves that float on the surface of the ocean. They act as a buttress to the ice resting on bedrock inland, slowing down the flow of the glaciers into the ocean. The westerly winds that encircle Antarctica have become more vigorous in recent decades, in response to climate warming and ozone depletion. The stronger winds push warm waters from the Southern Ocean poleward, where they eat away at the glaciers and floating ice shelves from below.”
Wouters added, “It appears that sometime around 2009, the ice shelf thinning and the subsurface melting of the glaciers passed a critical threshold which triggered the sudden ice loss,” Wouters added. “However, compared to other regions in Antarctica, the Southern Peninsula is rather understudied, exactly because it did not show any changes in the past, ironically.”