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Understanding the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s history improves predictions of its future

New insights from the International Ocean Discovery Program reveal more about the impact of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) during historic cooling and warming events.

Antarctica map graphic showing key areas of West and East Sheets with position of International Ocean Discovery Program drilling site.

Professor Andy Carter, Professor of Earth Science in Birkbeck's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was part of an international team led by Imperial College, London, which investigated Antarctic ice sheets from the early Miocene (around 18-16 million years ago) to understand the impact of both warm and cold periods on their size. These findings have recently been published in a paper in Nature.

The team was part of the International Ocean Discovery Program and their work involved drilling into sediments in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to find layers representative of both the coldest and warmest historic periods. They found material deposited by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) at distances far out to sea, showing that it grew larger during historic cold periods and therefore contributed to greater rises in sea-level during historic warming events. Prior to this research, it was uncertain how much both the larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), and the smaller WAIS, contributed to past sea-level rise.

Professor Andy Carter commented: "Geological records provide an important window into the past and can help us to understand potential impacts of human-caused climate warming. We know ice melting across Antarctica is occurring at an accelerating rate today and this will lead to marked rises in sea-level. The geological evidence tells us what to expect when temperatures were one, two, or three degrees warmer."

Further Information

A large West Antarctic Ice Sheet explains early Neogene sea-level amplitude, Nature

International Ocean Discovery Program

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