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ALERT: Mysterious Lake in East Antarctica Could Promote Ice Shelf Collapse

Dec 13, 2016 04:52 AM EST
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GoPro video shows Antarctica from a penguin's point of view

A new study conducted by researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands revealed that the ice shelf in the eastern peninsula of Antarctica is not as stable or pristine as previously thought.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that the East Antarctica is not safe from the harsh effects of the warming climate.

"Many people refer to East Antarctica as being too cold for significant melt," said Jan Lenaerts, a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study, in a report from Washington Post. "Our research has shown that East Antarctica is also vulnerable to climate change."

For the study, the researchers used climate models, satellite data and on-site measurements to look into the mysterious crater atop the King Baudoin ice shelf. Previously believed to be made by some sort of meteorite, the nearly two-mile wide crater was actually a large 10-foot deep lake bed, with multiple rivers and three moulins in its center. These rivers and moulins carries water deep down into the floating ice shelf.

Aside from the rivers and moulins, the researchers also found about 55 lakes in the ice shelf, with a number of these lakes classified as the so-called englacial lakes. Englacial lakes are a kind of lake that is sandwiched between the ice shelf surface and its base. The presence of these bodies of waters in the ice shelf clearly shows some levels of melting has already occurred in the East Antarctic region.

The researchers noted that strong winds carrying warm air blow away reflective snow, making the highly absorbent dark ice more vulnerable to the sun's hot rays. Too much meltwater formed into rivers and lakes may upset the buoyancy of the ice shelf, leading to a possible rupture.

With their findings, the researchers warned other climate and Earth scientists that they should also consider the erosions that occurs at the top of the ice shelf in their climate models and prediction, and not only focus on the underbellies of the ice shelf that is being eroded by warmer oceans.

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