GPS reveals Antarctic bedrock rising

November 26, 2018  - By
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The entirety of West Antarctica contains enough ice that, if it were to melt, would cause oceans to rise 10 feet. While the West Antarctic ice sheet is at risk of collapse, GPS data suggests this crisis could be averted because the bedrock supporting it is rising.

Using GPS, an international team of researchers found that the viscosity of the mantle under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is much lower than expected, with the crust rebounding faster than expected, possibly stabilizing against catastrophic collapse. According to the study, in 100 years, the uplift rates at the GPS sites will be 2.5 to 3.5 times more rapid than currently observed.

Backer Islands GPS station: The small mushroom-shaped GPS antenna is supported by the nearby equipment with solar panels. (Photo: David Saddler via Colorado State University)

Backer Islands GPS station: The small mushroom-shaped GPS antenna is supported by the nearby equipment with solar panels. (Photo: David Saddler via Colorado State University)

Participating researchers led by scientists at the Ohio State University installed a series of GPS stations on rock outcrops around the region to measure the Earth’s rise in response to thinning ice. Measurements showed that the bedrock uplift rates near the coast of West Antarctica were as high as 1.6 inches per year, one of the fastest rates ever recorded in glacial areas.

“This very rapid uplift may slow the runaway wasting and eventual collapse of the ice sheet,” said Rick Aster, a co-author of the study from Colorado State University. Nevertheless, Aster told the UK’s Independent, “To keep global sea levels from rising more than a few feet during this century and beyond, we must still limit greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, which can only occur through international cooperation and innovation.”

The team also included DTU Space. Study results were published in the journal Science.

About the Author:


Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006, and also is editor of GPS World’s sister website, Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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