Pine Island Glacier

About Pine Island Glacier

PIG location map
Location of Pine Island Glacier

Pine Island Glacier is located on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and flows into Pine Island Bay in the southeastern corner of the Amundsen Sea. It is thinning and contributing more to sea-level rise than any other glacier on Earth1,2. Its catchment covers an area around two thirds the size of the United Kingdom with ice up to 2.5 km thick..

Why Study Pine Island Glacier?

Pine Island Glacier is located in an area of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that is experiencing the greatest loss of ice than any other region on the planet2. This is of concern to glaciologists as it as been suggested that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is unstable and vulnerable to rapid collapse if the climate continues to warm. This is because much of the ice in this region of Antarctica is grounded far below sea level and therefore vulnerable to melting from warm ocean water3,4. Flow of Pine Island Glacier has increased by 42% between 1996 and 2007 and its grounding line (the down glacier limit of ice in contact with the glacier bed) has retreated by around 1km a year since 19962,5.

Rignot fig
Ice loss and ice velocities in Antarctica. Red circles represent the amount of ice loss for each region. Blue circles represent ice gain. The largest red circle is located in the area of Pine Island Glacier (Rignot et al., 2011).

The volume of ice locked up in Pine Island Glacier and its neighbouring glaciers contain enough water to raise global sea level by around 1.1 metres6. If the entire region of the WAIS were to melt, global sea level would increase by an average of 3.3 metres7. This would have severe consequences for coastal communities and highlights the importance of improving our understanding of ice-sheet stability in West Antarctica. By improving knowledge of the behaviour of Pine Island Glacier we can gain a better understanding of the characteristics of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and improve our ability to predict future changes in this region.

pyramid3
A field camp on Pine Island Glacier (credit: D. Davies).

 

References:

1. Sheperd, A. & Wingham, D. (2007). Recent sea-level contributions of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets. Science 315, 1529-1532.

2. Rignot, E., Bamber, J.L., Van Den Broeke, M.R., Davis, C., Li, Y., Van De Berg, W.J. & Van Meijgaard, E. (2008) Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modelling. Nature Geoscience 1, 106-110.

3. Mercer, J.H. (1978). West Antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster. Nature 271, 321-325.

4. Jenkins, A., Vaughan, D.G., Jacobs, S.S., Hellmer, H.H. & Keys, J.R. (1997) Glaciological and oceanographic evidence of high melt rates beneath Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica. J. Glaciology, 43, 114-121.

5. Rignot, E.J. (2008). Changes in West Antarctic ice stream dynamics observed with ALOS PALSAR data. Geophysical Research Letters, 35: L12505, DOI: 10.1029/2008GL033365.

6. Rignot, E.J. (2001). Analysis of ice flow changes in the Antarctic using ERS interferometry. Annals of Glaciology

7. Bamber, J.L, Riva, R.E.M., Vermeersen, B.L.A. & LeBrocq, A.M. (2009). Reassessment of the potential sea-level rise from a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science, 324, 901-903.

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