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Earth Science

Geothermal Heat Contributing To West Antarctic Ice Sheet Melting 387

bricko sends this news from The University of Texas at Austin: Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it's being melted from below by geothermal heat, researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) report in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings significantly change the understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where accurate information has previously been unobtainable. The Thwaites Glacier has been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks as other groups of researchers found the glacier is on the way to collapse, but more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds. The new observations by UTIG will greatly inform these ice sheet modeling efforts.
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Geothermal Heat Contributing To West Antarctic Ice Sheet Melting

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  • The Thwaites Glacier is melting because of Geothermal heat rather than AGW? I must admit that I'm astonished. Not by the cause of the melting, but by the fact that the discovery is being announced without any attempt to spin this as proof of AGW.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by polar red ( 215081 )

      AGW has a straightforward reasoning behind it : 1/ the greenhouse effect of CO2, which you can test for yourself: see youtube. if you have other results, warn the nobel price committee. 2/amount of CO2 released can be estimated as well, by calculating how much oil, coal has been burned the last centuries. this amount is far larger than any removal of forest cutting has been responsible for, and far greater than volcanoes.

    • "Do owls exist?"

      "Are there hats?"

    • by Arty Choke ( 3690395 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @03:59AM (#47209963)
      You don't have it straight yet. That would require reading the source article, which you obviously have not done. The study shows that geothermal heat is CONTRIBUTING to the melting, not the sole cause. The warming ocean is causing the surface melt, while it appears that geothermal heat may be melting the underside, increasing instability. There is not a word in the article that contradicts AGW. Sorry to disappoint you.
      • So many people just seem to want some excuse to do nothing. It's not just denying that humans are contributing to climate change but an implicit denial that humans can do anything about it anyway. So, geothermal warning is contributing, woo-hoo, now I don't have to drive my Hummer under the speed limit to save gas.

        Similarly we're probably going to have a major earthquake in California sometime, so it makes good sense to have a earthquake preparedness kit. Would this anti-AGW reject that and claim that it

        • Maybe I should have used sarcasm tags. I don't deny that the climate is changing, because I'm enough of a realist to understand that the climate is always changing. I am, however, skeptical about the cause. My personal opinion is that geothermal energy may be a factor (even, possibly a major factor) in the melting of the Thwaites Glacier, but AFAIK there's no evidence, as yet, that this is true for any other glacier.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by riverat1 ( 1048260 )

      Some parts of the Thwaites Glacier are melting because of geothermal heat, not all of it. In fact probably less than 10% is affected directly by the geothermal heat. Why should you be astonished when scientists report science?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Everything is due to AGW and it is turtles all the way down...

    • by Layzej ( 1976930 )
      The researchers mapped geothermal sources, but didn't find an increase in geothermal sources under the WAIS, Something else likely triggered the melting, but the geothermal sources may make this ice sheet more unstable than previously thought. This may explain why we hit the tipping point so much sooner than we had expected.
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:20AM (#47211463) Journal

      The Thwaites Glacier is melting because of Geothermal heat rather than AGW?

      No. It isn't. Read the paper instead of making inferences from a summary that is significantly lacking in details.

      Scientists knew there was geothermal heat contributing to base melting of the glacier. Most places on Earth have a tiny amount of geothermal heat flux so underneath most glaciers there some small amount of melting due to this heat. On average, the geothermal flux on Earth is about 65 milliwatts/square meter.

      This paper was looking to quantify the geothermal flux under the glacier so that they could model the behavior more accurately. It turns out the the average geothermal flux under the glacier is around 120 milliwatts/square meter with some areas going as high as 200 milliwatts/square meter. This adds a little bit more base melt and thus allows the glacier to move a little bit faster.

      Keep in mind, these are milliwatts we're talking about, so it certainly isn't melting a lot. But since it is base melt it is contributing to glacier movement speed. This contributes to the ice loss already occurring due to warmer temperatures.

    • I double-plus extra love the happy joy-joy feelings inspired when a comment dedicated solely to spin complains about spin. It's like there's a party in my colon!

  • The Gods (Score:4, Funny)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @03:41AM (#47209893)

    It was so much nicer when we could just attribute disasters to the Gods, sacrifice one or two goats and all be happy about it.

    • by Bob_Who ( 926234 )

      It was so much nicer when we could just attribute disasters to the Gods, sacrifice one or two goats and all be happy about it.

      You have goats?

      I ran out....

  • Regardless (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    of whether humans are the cause of global warming, we should stop pollution for it's own sake! Even if we are 0% responsible, we should still cut the amount of stuff we put into the air and water.

    • Re:Regardless (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bigwheel ( 2238516 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @08:36AM (#47211121)

      In that case, we should be focused on pollutants rather than CO2. CO2 is a trace gas that is essential to life.

      CO2 is not even listed among pollutants in the Clean Air Act. It was put into that category by EPA as an executive measure, after the Supreme Court authorized them in 2007 to do so. [] This was done for the sole purpose of furthering the global warming agenda.

  • if you stand at the pole?

    • by PhilHibbs ( 4537 )

      Walk towards Greenwich and turn left.

    • by tsqr ( 808554 )

      Well, if you're precisely at the South Pole, any direction is north. Fortunately, all of Antarctica is not precisely at the pole. Western Antarctica is the part of the continent that is in the western hemisphere. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @04:43AM (#47210167)

    Usually (Yellowstone, Iceland, ...) geothermal sources are present tens of thousands, if not tens of millions, of years before present. Unless this is a newly-formed hot spot, the ice sheet has survived millions of years of it. Only the OTHER (read: us) source of heat is now exposing the ice sheet to more heat than it can withstand.

  • Ya' think? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Bring on the geothermal heat "deniers"

  • There was an article here in /. just a week or two ago saying that the Antarctic Sheet is perplexing to climatologists because it is _increasing_, not decreasing. So a glacier sloughs off, why would it alone contribute to sea level rises, while the rest of the sheet is growing? Show me your models, tell me its assumptions and approximations, demonstrate its predictions when there are deviations from those assumptions and approximations, and you will likely be apologising or rationalising the results so th

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > There was an article here in /. just a week or two ago saying that the Antarctic Sheet is perplexing to climatologists because it is _increasing_, not decreasing.

      Increasing in surface area but decrease in volume. This isn't complicated, but if you won't look stuff up then it is easy to say that all exaggeration is equal. Kind of like -1 and +10 are both numbers so they are really just the same thing.

    • I think you're confusing Antarctic sea ice with the Antarctic ice sheet. The maximum sea ice extent has grown somewhat recently but the ice sheet has been losing ice.

  • I know there are some erupting under the ice. Is this contributing?
  • by mpsmps ( 178373 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:26AM (#47211497)

    It's worth pointing out that the increased geothermal heat estimate only contributes a few per cent to the melting of the Thwaites glacier []. It's predominately AGW and natural calving. I'm not saying this paper isn't important (we all know about the straw that broke the camel's back), just pointing out that it doesn't provide an alternate explanation to AGW for the melting of the Thwaite glacier.

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