Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Heat source under Antarctica melting its ice sheet, reports NASA study

The underground mantle plume is thought to be driving some of the melting seen beneath the ice giving rise to lakes and rivers. The illustration shows flowing water under the Antarctic ice sheet with blue dots indicating lakes while lines show rivers Mysterious geothermal 'mantle plume' under Antarctica is heating its ice sheet, NASA study confirms
Frank Williams | 09 November, 2017, 15:39

When Hélène Seroussi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, first heard the idea, however, "I thought it was insane", she said. The rapid filling and draining of lakes and rivers in the Antarctica result in rising or falling of ice sheaths to almost 20 feet (6 meters). Marie Byrd Land is part of the bulging "elbow" leading to the Antarctic Peninsula.

As the material is buoyant, it pushes the crust upward.

The stability of ice sheets is closely related to the quantity of water beneath the sheets.

A new study by NASA reveals that a geothermal heat source called a "mantle plume" lies deep below West Antarctica, which explains some of the melting that creates lakes and rivers under the ice sheet.

A NASA study has discovered new evidence of an ancient geothermal heat source beneath West Antarctica. The JPL researchers created a model that accounted for the physics of the ice sheets, sources of heat in the region and how heat is transported, changes in the altitude of the ice sheet surface, among other factors. This motion allows scientists to better understand the underground topography and better estimate concentrations of water sources beneath the surface.

There are some red-hot rocks sitting beneath the ice and producing nearly as much heat as the Yellowstone supervolcano and melting part of Antarctica from the inside out. Seroussi and Ivins suggest the mantle plume could facilitate this kind of rapid loss.

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"These place a powerful constraint on allowable melt rates - the very thing we wanted to predict", Ivins said.

After that, they simulated a number of different scenarios for the size and location of a possible mantle plume, since both those factors were unknown, and compared the effects with observations of Antarctic melting, as recorded by satellites in space. In order to be consistent with observations of basal hydrology in Marie Byrd Land, the upper bound on the plume-derived geothermal heat flux is 150 milliwatts per square meter.

The researchers found that the energy flux from the mantle plume would not be more than 150 milliwatts per square meter.

Mantle plumes are areas of hot, upwelling mantle and are thought to be the cause of volcanic centers known as hotspots.

According to the theories, the Marie Byrd Land mantle plume had been formed about 50 to 110 million years ago, even before the West Antarctic sheet came into existence.

Before starting the study, Seroussi was somewhat skeptical of the mantle plume theory. However, seismic imaging has shown that mantle heat in this region may reach the ice sheet through a rift, that is, a fracture in Earth's crust such as appears in Africa's Great Rift Valley.

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