February 28, 2007
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FROM VOLUME 11, NUMBER 8, AUGUST 1998
rapid thinning and retreat of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica
(see Rignot article in Prof. Pubs./Glacial Retreat in this issue) has
raised concerns about the possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice
Sheet [see West Antarcticas Weak Underbelly Giving Way?
Science 281 (5376), 499-500 (July 24, 1998)], which
constitutes one-quarter of Antarctica. These concerns were first voiced by
Terence Hughes of the University of Maine back in 1981. The fear is that,
if this and other ice streams dissolve away, the downhill slope of the
offshore seabed would accelerate the glacial outpouring, leading to a
breakup and melting of the entire ice sheet within a couple of centuries.
Such a collapse, it has been estimated, would produce a worldwide
sea-level rise of more than 5 m.
In India, a cold, snowy winter did not compensate for the melting of the
Dokriani Bamak Glacier in the Himalaya. Instead, measurements of the
glacier by J. T. Gergan of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology at
Dehradun found that the glacier is retreating 20 m this year [see Himalayan
Glacier Backing Off, Science 281 (5381), 1277 (Aug.
28, 1998)]. Moreover, Dokriani Bamak is considered typical of the hundreds
of glaciers that feed the Ganges River. Predictions are that, if these
glaciers continue retreating at the current rate for the next quarter
century, the Ganges will swell, and then its flow will fall off to
perilous levels during the summers.
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