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CryoSat sheds new light on Antarctica’s biggest glacier

27 January 2020

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Ice loss from Pine Island Glacier has contributed more to sea-level rise over the past four decades than any other glacier in Antarctica. However, the way this huge glacier is thinning is complex, leading to uncertainty about how it is likely to raise sea level in the future. Thanks to ESA's CryoSat mission, scientists have now been able to shed new light on these complex patterns of ice loss.

Although Pine Island Glacier is one of the most intensively and extensively investigated glacier system in Antarctica, different model projections of future mass loss give conflicting results; some suggesting mass loss could dramatically increase over the next few decades, resulting in a rapidly growing contribution to sea level, while others indicate a more moderate response.

Identifying which is the more likely behaviour is important for understanding future sea-level rise and how this vulnerable part of Antarctica is going to evolve over the coming decades.

In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, scientists from the University of Bristol, UK, describe how they used information from CryoSat to help clarify the situation. They discovered that the pattern of ice loss is evolving in complex ways, both in space and time.

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