Durham university researchers helping to predict sea level rises

Dr Stewart Jamieson checks out the ice first hand.
Dr Stewart Jamieson checks out the ice first hand.
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A UK team, led by the university, has found the geometry of channels beneath the ice can control its behaviour, temporarily hiding the signs of retreat.

A UK team, led by the university, has found the geometry of channels beneath the ice can control its behaviour, temporarily hiding the signs of retreat.

The findings, which provide the first simulation of past ice-sheet retreat and collapse over a 10,000-year period in Antarctica, could help refine predictions of future ice movement and global sea-level rise, the researchers say.

Lead researcher Dr Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at Durham’s Department of Geography, said: “Our research shows that the physical shape of the channels is a more important factor in controlling ice stability than was previously realised.

“Channel width can have a major effect on ice flow and determines how fast retreat and therefore sea-level rise, can happen.”

The researchers looked at the landscape of the seafloor in Marguerite Bay, in the Antarctic Peninsula, and saw that during a rapid phase of recession 13,000 years ago, retreat paused many times.

Using a computer model designed to work in situations of rapid change, they found they could reproduce the same pattern in a series of simulations.

Although climatic and oceanic changes are crucial drivers of ice loss, the research showed the landscape below the ice strongly controls the speed of any retreat.

Dr Jamieson said: “Getting a clearer picture of the landscape beneath the ice is crucial, if future predictions of change are to be improved.”