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Antarctica’s ice disappeared in just a decade 20,000 years ago

Antarctica’s ice disappeared in just a decade 20,000 years ago

A new study conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany provides critical insights into past ice mass loss in Antarctica: after the natural warming that followed the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, there was repeated periods in which masses of icebergs broke off from Antarctica into the Southern Ocean.

New research, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, has found that it took only ten years to initiate this tipping point in the climate system, and that the loss of ice mass continued for many centuries. According to a Press release, the data shed light on what could happen in the future of the white continent.

Everything indicates that, at present, the acceleration of the loss of ice mass in the Antarctica In recent decades it may usher in a self-sustaining and irreversible period of ice sheet retreat, as well as a substantial rise in sea level around the world.

Rubble that speaks of the past

The new study, led by an international research team led by Dr. Michael Weber of the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Bonn, focused on a data model applied to research Antarctica as the continent that has the largest ice sheet on Earth. According to scientists, discovering unknown aspects of their past can be used to predict the behavior of ice sheets in the present and in the future, as well as their impact on sea level.

The specialists were able to identify and date eight different phases characterized by large landslides in the Antarctic ice sheet, after the last glacial maximum. It was possible to characterize these phases from the debris released by icebergs, which accumulate on the ocean floor.

At the same time, the researchers concluded that each of these eight phases destabilized the Antarctic ice sheet by only a decade, leading to a global rise in sea level that according to estimates could have extended over a period of up to a millennium. However, the re-stabilization Later it also came to fruition very quickly, in a ten-year cycle.

Related Topic: Antarctica is melting six times faster than 40 years ago.Related Topic: Antarctica is melting six times faster than 40 years ago.

The alarm goes off

On the other hand, scientists maintain that there are multiple evidences that indicate that the acceleration of the loss of ice masses in Antarctica in recent decades may be the beginning of an extended period landslides, with strong consequences on the rise in sea level throughout the planet.

If 20,000 years ago it took only a decade to produce landslides of great magnitude, the current data turn on the alarm: If the Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves in the future as it did in the past, the “tipping” or tipping point recorded at the end of the last Ice Age could be being experienced again right now.

A re-stabilization without a precise date

In addition, specialists do not believe that it is possible to foresee with certainty when the re-stabilization process This was achieved in the past, because today the incidence of climate change and global warming have modified the “natural clocks” and cycles that have been documented in previous periods of our planet’s history.

For scientists, the end of the cycle of losses in the ice masses and the reestablishment of the previous conditions will be directly linked to the degree of impact environmental modifications that take place in the future. In short, the possibility of preserving a certain stability at sea level and of conserving an environment so rich in resources of all kinds such as the Antarctica it depends largely on the decisions that governments and societies make in the coming decades.


Decadal-scale onset and termination of Antarctic ice-mass loss during the last deglaciation. Michael E. Weber, Nicholas R. Golledge, Chris J. Fogwill, Chris S.M. Turney and Zoë A. Thomas. Nature Communications (2021). DOI:

Photo: University of Bonn / Michael Weber.

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