LIVERMORE -- The rapid melting of a major Antarctic glacier could continue for several more decades or even centuries to come, according to an international team of researchers that includes two scientists from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

Using the lab's Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry to measure radioactive isotopes in glacially transported rocks, researchers Bob Finkel and Dylan Rood discovered the Pine Island Glacier -- which has experienced rapid melting for the past two decades -- underwent similar melting about 8,000 years ago. The glacier sustained the thinning over decades to centuries at an average rate of more than 3 feet per year, they said.

Their studies found that "the melting of the Pine Island Glacier at a rate comparable to that over the past two decades is rare but not unprecedented," Rood said. "Ongoing ocean-driven melting of the glacial ice shelf in current times may result in continued rapid thinning and ground line retreat for several more decades or even centuries."

The Pine Island Glacier melted between 4 and 20 feet per year from 2002 to 2007, likely linked, researchers said, with an increase of warm water under the ice shelf. The ice loss "dramatically contributes to the sea level of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet," according to a lab press release.

The research, which could provide insights into the patterns and duration of glacial melt, as well as global climate change, appears in the Feb. 20 issue of Science Express.


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Scientists at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and the Berkeley Geochronology Center contributed to the study. Other institutions involved include The British Antarctic Survey, Durham University, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz-Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.