In a new study from the University of Houston using an advanced remote imaging system known as Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry, three South Pole glaciers are documented with never-before-seen levels of clarity and completeness. seen before. The new remote sensing data system not only reveals the icy secrets of Earth’s least explored continent, it also alerts to global climate risks, present and future.
Documentation of the rapid and unprecedented retreat of the Pope, Smith and Kohler glaciers in Amundsen Bay in West Antarctica is detailed in an article published in Natural geosciences.
“Thanks to the new generation of radar satellites, we have in recent years been able to observe faster rates of retreat than ever seen among glaciers around the world. This is a warning sign that things are not stabilizing, not stabilize at all. This could have serious implications for the balance of the entire ice system in this area,” said radar scientist Pietro Milillo, an assistant professor of civil engineering at UH and lead author of the item.
In this ongoing international study of data collected via the TanDEM-X and COSMO-SkyMed satellites, Milillo is joined by researchers and scientists from the University of California, Irvine from three national space agencies: NASA, Aerospace Center German (DLR) and the Italian Space Agency. (UPS).
The research team plans to extend the scientific knowledge they are gaining from the relatively small and less studied Pope, Smith and Kohler glaciers to their giant and fragile neighbors in West Antarctica, the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, as well than to the entire Antarctic ice system.
“The problem here is that we found such a high rate of retreat – so high that we actually see that these three smaller glaciers could actually capture the basin of the nearby Thwaites Glacier, causing Thwaites to lose more mass” , said Milillo. “In Antarctica, glaciers are not melting because of interaction with the sun. They are melting because they are accelerating and injecting more ice into the ocean. This is one of the main mechanisms of mass loss. “
At the southernmost point on Earth, the South Pole is in darkness for most of the year. Its extreme weather conditions mean that researchers can only visit for short periods, limiting their research. (Milillo points out that Antarctica is so remote that most often the closest humans are astronauts orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station.)
“Radar is perfect for these applications. The beauty of radar is that it can penetrate clouds. It can look in all weather conditions. sunlight.” he said.
“In the past, we had to wait several years in order to accumulate enough useful data. For this reason, we could only observe long-term trends. Now we can look at the retreats on a monthly basis and capture a new level This will help improve glacier models and, in turn, refine our estimates of sea level rise,” Milillo said.
Among these monthly measurements, the team measures changes in elevation every two weeks to assess retreat at a glacier’s stranding line, the boundary below the glacier where frozen land meets warmer water. The ground line becomes particularly vulnerable as the hot water digs into an ice floe which begins to float and could easily break away completely.
“If all the ice above the waterline in Antarctica melted, sea levels would rise an average of 58 meters (190 feet),” Milillo said. “If the signals we are looking at are confirmed, mass loss from Antarctica, as well as Greenland, will increase. As they rise, sea levels will rise.”
“If all these glaciers melt, sea water could rise rapidly. With 267 million people worldwide living on land less than 2 meters (6.6 feet) above sea level, a Sudden migration could result. Additionally, subsidence could eventually see large structures sink in vulnerable places, including Houston,” Milillo said. “That’s why people should care about this issue. Even if it doesn’t affect their lives, it will affect the lives of their children and their grandchildren.”
For now, Milillo is focused on the near future, including NASA’s plans in 2023 to launch its NISAR satellite, designed to provide even more quantitative and frequent data acquisitions than state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar. current. Also known as NASA-ISRO SAR, the satellite will measure changes in ecosystems, dynamic surfaces and ice masses, providing Milillo and his fellow scientists with a bolder picture of our changing Earth.
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Material provided by University of Houston. Original written by Sally Strong. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.