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Antarctic glaciers are flowing faster in the summer

The Antarctic is a rugged environment, and scientific research in the ecosystem can be grueling and often impossible. However, thanks to improvements in satellite technology, researchers led by the University of Leeds were recently able to comb through over 100,000 images of the Antarctic Peninsula. The team reviewed satellite images taken between 2017 and 2021 to understand the differences in glacial behavior during colder and milder periods.

Glaciers are known to move approximately one kilometer (0.62 miles) yearly. However, researchers recently discovered that the ice flows up to 22 percent faster in the summer than in the cooler months. Experts believe this is due to increased ocean temperatures and melting snow, which increases lubrication and the rate of glacial slide. The finding is significant because it can provide insight into what the Antarctic could look like as temperatures and sea levels rise.

Knowing how fast glaciers are melting and moving is especially important, considering that the Antarctic Peninsula is the largest frozen freshwater reservoir in the world and is especially vulnerable to warming temperatures. Between 1992 and 2017, melting ice on the peninsula caused global sea levels to rise by 7.6mm, which may significantly impact climate change.

“The Antarctic Peninsula has seen some of the most rapid warming of any region on Earth. Continuing work like this will help glaciologists monitor how quickly change is occurring, enabling accurate assessments of how Earth’s ice will respond to climate change,” explained study co-author Dr. Anna Hogg.

Craig Donlon of the European Space Agency concludes by explaining how satellite images will continue to be a game changer for scientists:

“This study highlights how high-resolution satellite images can help us monitor how the environment is changing in remote regions,” said Donlon. “Future satellites, such as the family of Copernicus Sentinel expansion missions, promise to bring enhanced continuity and capabilities that will spearhead further insight into the characteristics and processes governing ice mass balance and sea-level rise.”

The research is published in the journal  Nature Geosciences.

Image Credit: Dr Anna E. Hogg, University of Leeds

By Erin Moody, Staff Writer

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