Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Sea-Level Rise

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Sea-Level Rise

Article excerpt

In an effort to understand how fast sea level might rise as the climate warms, a University of Michigan (U-M) researcher has developed a new theory to describe how icebergs detach from ice sheets and glaciers.

This process of "iceberg calving" is not well understood. Though scientists believe it currently accounts for roughly half of the mass lost in shrinking ice sheets, current sea-level rise models do not take changes in iceberg calving into account in their predictions, says Jeremy Bassis, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences at U-M.

"Our models cannot predict about half of the mass balance. We don't know how much of an effect this will have, but we've seen several prominent examples where calving is connected with speed-up of the ice-retreat process," Bassis says.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica--a 2,000 [mi.sup.2] (3,200 [km.sup.2]), 700 ft. thick (200 m thick) slab that had been stable for thousands of years--disintegrated in about six weeks between January and March of 2002.

Scientists believe rising temperatures and ice fracturing were the primary causes of the disintegration. But they do not have a handle on exactly how it happened.

When ice breaks off of ice shelves, it does not directly or immediately cause melting and sea-level rise. But scientists believe it can contribute to and hasten those processes. The icebergs can float into warmer parts of the ocean and melt. And ice calving can perhaps lead to more fracturing. …

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