Glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula are Moving Faster During the Summers

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Over a period of six years, from 2014 to 2021, a group of researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK and Utrecht University in the Netherlands utilized more than 10,000 radar images from Copernicus Sentinel-1 to determine the velocity of 105 glaciers located on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctic Peninsula

The Antarctic Peninsula is a long and narrow strip of land that is the most northern region of the continent of Antarctica. It is located on the western side of the continent, jutting out from the main landmass towards the southern tip of South America.

Stretching 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) into the Southern Ocean, ice covers the majority of the peninsula’s land area, with only a small percentage being ice-free, and in certain locations, the ice can be as much as 500 meters (1,600 feet) in thickness.

A map showing the Antarctica surrounded by ocean.
Map of Antarctica showing the location of the Antarctic Peninsula. The dashed line is the 60th parallel south which is the line that marks the northern limit of the Southern Ocean. Map: NOAA Climate, public domain.

Areas that lack ice on the Antarctic Peninsula are mainly crags and nunataks. A nunatak, which is derived from the Inuit word nunataq, is the peak or crest of a mountain that emerges from an ice field or glacier.

The Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the major contributors to the rising of sea levels over the last fifty years.

Glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula

The presence of glaciers is also a prominent feature of the Antarctic Peninsula. A study published in 2014 noted that there are 860 are marine-terminating glaciers on the peninsula. This study also found that more than 90% of the glaciers had retreated between the 1940s and 2010.

A satellite image of a glacier in the Antarctic.
Crane glacier, Antarctic Peninsula on April 6, 2002. Satellite image: Landsat 7, NASA, public domain.

Glacier movement on the Antarctic Peninsula

The latest research analyzed the movement of 105 glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula by using satellite data and imagery. The study looked at seasonal changes in glacier speed in the region.

The study concluded that the glaciers which undergo the greatest seasonal variations actually move 22% faster during the summer months than during the winter months.

Overall, glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula are moving 12% faster during the summer compared to

References

Cook, A. J., Vaughan, D. G., Luckman, A. J., & Murray, T. (2014). A new Antarctic Peninsula glacier basin inventory and observed area changes since the 1940s. Antarctic Science26(6), 614-624. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954102014000200

University of Leeds. (2023, February 27). Satellites reveal speed-up of Antarctic glaciershttps://www.leeds.ac.uk/news-environment/news/article/5251/satellites-reveal-speed-up-of-antarctic-glaciers

Wallis, B.J., Hogg, A.E., van Wessem, J.M. et al. (2023). Widespread seasonal speed-up of west Antarctic Peninsula glaciers from 2014 to 2021. Nature Geoscience.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-023-01131-4

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