Ice sheet collapse: The greatest unknown in climate science

The ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are remnants of the ice age. They're also the wild cards of climate science.

  • The science of glaciology and ice sheets is quite new, as methods to measure melting glaciers were only realized with the advent of aviation and lasers.
  • The world's sea levels are rising 3mm per year, and of that Greenland's ice sheet contributes 1mm – it is losing between 250 to 300 billion tons of ice per year. Three millimeters total is not much, but ice sheets don't always operate in a linear fashion.
  • No human has ever witnessed an ice sheet collapse. It is also such a rare event that models cannot accurately predict what the effect will be. Can we halt global warming before we reach that tipping point?
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Greenland’s ice: A trip back in time to see the future of climate change

There are clues to the future and past trapped in Greenland's ice.

  • The Greenland ice sheet covers 80% of the island of Greenland. The sheet is 1,500 miles long, 700 miles across, and two miles thick. Scientists call it the largest laboratory in the world.
  • By studying the minerals and gasses trapped in layers of ice, glaciologists can unravel mysteries of the past, such as what the temperature was 1,000 years ago, or search for clues as to why the Greenland Norse people vanished.
  • Ice cores are a key to the past that also unlocks the future. Studying Greenland's ice sheet is yielding valuable information about the future of climate change.
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Greenland loses 4 trillion pounds of ice in one day

Normally, the landscape in this photo would be a white ice sheet.

  • Climate scientists say that Greenland is experiencing ice losses that are unusually early and heavy.
  • Two main weather factors are fueling the losses: a high-pressure system and the resulting low cloud cover.
  • Greenland is a major contributor to sea-level rise.
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Surprising Science

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by climate change, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
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Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.

(Goldstein Lab/Wkikpedia/Tigerspaws/Big Think)
  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
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