Mama Nature: Bedrock Rising
Mama Nature is phenomenal. This month, scientists from The Ohio State University discovered that the earth’s bedrock in Antarctica is rising at one of the fastest rates ever recorded — a whopping 41 millimeters (1.6 inches) per year!
Wait, the earth rises? Shh, we didn’t realize that either. Kind of hard to eyeball when you look out at the horizon.
Why is this happening? Well, as you may have heard, the ice caps are melting. Specifically, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Namely, due to climate change. As the WAIS disappears, weight is lifted off the earth’s bedrock, which allows the bedrock to rise.
And that’s good? In a word, yes. In 16 words, it’d be better if the WAIS wasn’t melting like a firecracker popsicle in July, but yes. Think of it this way: as ice melts and thins, the entire ice sheet is more likely to collapse under its own weight. But as the bedrock rises, it helps stabilize the WAIS against collapse.
Forty-one millimeters? Sounds small, we know. Yet Terry Wilson, professor emeritus of earth sciences at Ohio State and one of the leaders of the study, calls this uplift rate a “game changer.” By contrast, the bedrock in Iceland and Alaska, which are generally considered to have rapid uplift rates, rises at a rate of 20 to 30 millimeters per year.
What does it all mean? Previously, scientists thought that the bedrock in Antarctica would rise too slowly (think thousands of years) to stabilize the WAIS. However, the new study suggests that the bedrock uplift could stabilize the area in a matter of decades. When you consider that the WAIS accounts for 25% of global sea level rise attributed to disappearing ice and snow and that its glaciers contain enough water to raise the global sea level by up to four feet, thank Mama Nature that this phenomenon is taking place.
Source: Grabmeier, Jeff, “Bedrock in West Antarctica rising at surprisingly rapid rate,” The Ohio State University, 2018.