(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)
Mantle plume’ nearly as hot as Yellowstone supervolcano is melting Antarctic ice sheet
A satellite observation specialist posted a photo to Twitter of the Pine Island Glacier, starting to make a break for it. Buzz60
Antarctica is getting a little hot under the collar.
Just under the frozen wasteland of the world’s coldest continent are some seriously hot rocks, which are helping to melt its ice sheet and create lakes and rivers, a study found.
How hot? Try 1,800 degrees. The heat produced by the scorching hot rocks — officially known as a mantle plume — was measured at 150 milliwatts per square meter. That’s not far from the heat produced under Yellowstone National Park, which is measured at about 200 milliwatts per square meter.
The study is among the first to say that a mantle plume exists under Marie Byrd Land, a portion of West Antarctica. Study lead author Helene Seroussi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory thought it was “crazy” that it would be there: “I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it,” she said.
The goal of the study was to figure out how the ice sheet was able to stay frozen with such a warm mantle plume underneath and to determine the amount of heat provided by the plume to the base of the ice sheet.
Although the heat source isn’t a new or increasing threat to the West Antarctic ice sheet, it could help explain why the ice sheet collapsed rapidly some 11,000 years ago and why it’s so unstable today, Seroussi said.
Additionally, understanding the sources and future of the meltwater under West Antarctica is important for estimating the rate at which ice may be lost to the ocean in the future, she added.
This study is not linked to the recent iceberg calving event in Larsen C or the change in Antarctic sea ice, Seroussi said.
The mantle plume has been present in this region for over 50 million years, so it existed before the onset of the Antarctic ice sheet. “However, the presence of the plume is important, as it suggests the ice is more vulnerable in this area: this additional heat warms the ice, which suggests greater weakness in the face of future and past changes in the environment,” she added.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.
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