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Rapid Antarctic Ice Melt in the Past Bodes Ill for the Future

A new iceberg calves from Pine Island Glacier—one of the main outlets where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet flows into the ocean, in September 2017. Credit: Antarctic glaciers may be capable of shrinking at much faster rates than scientists previously imagined — raising new concerns about the future of the ice sheet.

New evidence suggests that parts of the ice sheet retreated by as much as 6 miles a year at the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago. That’s about 10 times as fast as the fastest-melting glaciers are retreating today.

It’s an ominous reminder that previous warm periods have driven monumental environmental changes — and it’s possible it could happen again. Advertisement “This is the first study that’s showed definitively that rates [of retreat] can be this rapid,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The study , published yesterday in Science , used a robotic underwater vehicle to investigate the seabed around the eastern Antarctic Peninsula. The vehicle revealed a pattern of ridges on the ocean floor, perfectly preserved for thousands of years.

These kinds of ridges can form as a glacier loses ice and retreats backward […]

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