Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica

February 07, 2001


Provided by: Andrew Shepherd
Summary authors & editors: Andrew Shepherd; Martin Ruzek

A major glacial formation in Antarctica is shrinking, but questions still remain about the speed at which ice sheet thinning is taking place. Scientists at University College London (UCL) and the British Antarctic Survey have used satellite data to show that the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is thinning inland. Since 1992, 31 cubic kilometers of ice has been lost from its interior. The loss can be pinpointed to the fast-flowing Pine Island Glacier -- the largest glacier in West Antarctica -- which transports ice from the deep interior of the ice sheet to the ocean.

Pine Island Glacier is up to 2500 meters thick with a bedrock over 1500 meters below sea level. The glacier, scientists now say, has retreated by over 5 kilometers inland as a consequence of the thinning. This adds further weight to the argument that small changes at the coast of the Antarctic continent -- such as the effects of global warming -- may be transmitted rapidly inland, leading to an acceleration of sea level rise.

Photo of the Pine Island Glacier taken by Tom Kellogg onboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Glacier, 1985, in Pine Island Bay.

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