Bedrock in West Antarctica rising at surprisingly rapid rate

The earth is rising in a region of Antarctica at one of the fastest rates ever recorded, as ice rapidly disappears and weight is lifted off the bedrock, according to data from a new international study.

The findings, reported in the journal Science, contain surprising and positive implications for the survival of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which scientists had previously thought could be doomed because of the effects of climate change.

The unexpectedly fast rate of the rising earth may markedly increase the stability of the ice sheet against catastrophic collapse due to ice loss, scientists say.

Moreover, the rapid rise of the earth in this area also affects gravity measurements, which implies that up to 10 percent more ice has disappeared in this part of Antarctica than previously assumed.

Douglas Wiens, the Robert S. Brookings Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is part of the study team led by scientists at The Ohio State University. The researchers used a series of six GPS stations (part of the POLENET-ANETarray, which Washington University helped deploy) attached to bedrock around the Amundsen Sea Embayment to measure its rise in response to thinning ice.

The uplift rate was measured at up to 41 millimeters (1.6 inches) a year.

In contrast, places like Iceland and Alaska, which are considered to exemplify rapid uplift rates, generally are measured rising 20 to 30 millimeters a year.

“The rate of uplift we found is unusual and very surprising. It’s a game changer,” said Terry Wilson, one of the leaders of the study and a professor emeritus of earth sciences at Ohio State.

And it is only going to get faster. The researchers estimate that in 100 years, uplift rates at the GPS sites will be 2.5 to 3.5 times more rapid than currently observed.

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