Archive for ‘Water’

Central Vietnam dries up

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

The outlines of the MARD report were briefed on July 1. Members of a MARD mission just returned from Vietnam’s central region confirmed that nearly 200,000 hectares of rice and vegetables are withering. Half of the area suffers from serious drought. At least 15,000 hectares of rice will be a dead loss.

Drought is also drying up also daily water supply. At least 40,000 households in nine districts of Binh Dinh province, on Quang Ngai’s Ly Son Island, and along the lower reaches of the Thu Bon river (Quang Nam) are living without adequate supplies of clean water.

At a meeting chaired by First Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong on July 1, Pham Hong Quang, head of the mission to the central region, said that drought most serious in the north central region – the coastal provinces of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Ha Tinh.

Quang said that of more than 250,000 hectares of summer-autumn rice, 62,000 are seriously short of water, including 55,000 hectares in the aforementioned provinces. Another 70,000 hectares of ricefields have been left fallow because of drought.

On the central coast, 25,000 hectares of rice and 23,000 hectares of vegetables are reported to lack water. The worst hit provinces are Binh Dinh (6000 hectares), Quang Nam (5000 hectares), Khanh Hoa (5000 hectares), Phu Yen (2000 hectares) and Da Nang (700 hectares).

Quang forecast that if baking sun continues for another five to seven days, losses will rise considerably. Specifically, the north-central region would have to write off another 12,000 hectares rice while losses on the central coast will double to reach 45,000 hectares.

The hot dry weather has persisted for more than two months, drying up rivers, reservoirs and streams in the region.

Major rivers like the Tra Khuc (Quang Ngai), Vu Gia and Thu Bon (both Quang Nam) are all dry. The level of water in reservoir at Quang Ngai’s Thach Nham dam is one meter below the spillway.

“I’ve never seen such a serious drought in my life. Trees can’t live in scorching sun and water shortage like this. Several years ago, the sun was fierce but we still had water,” senior farmer Nguyen Thanh Hung from Dien Ban district (Quang Nam) told VietNamNet.

“God is too cruel! How can we survive in this weather!” lamented senior farmer Le Than.

Most estuaries in the central region have been infiltrated by sea water. As a result, pumping stations are idle.

To save over 500 hectares of rice, Tam Ky city, Quang Nam province, spent over 800 million dong ($42,000) to build a dam against salt water intrusion.

On Ly Son island, twenty kilometers off the coast of Quang Ngai province, 110 families have built tanks to collect rain-water when wells became unreliable. However, their tanks are now bone-dry because there has been no rain since mid-March.

The island’s 20,000 residents must purchase water brought from the mainland on boats. They are being charged as much as 190,000 dong ($10) per cubic meter.

The MARD mission confirmed that central provinces have established steering boards to combat the drought and ordered drastic measures but the situation is not improved. Average temperatures in May and June were nearly 2°C higher than average.

MARD’s Cultivation Department and the General Department of Irrigation have recommended that drought-stricken provinces reconsider where the selection of crops should be changed to cope with drought, dredge canals, redouble efforts to manage irrigation effectively and dig more wells.

MARD will ask the government to mobilize anti-drought assistance urgently for the central provinces.

Source: Central Vietnam dries up – english.vietnamnet.vn

Date: 03 July 2010

US scientist in race to learn from Indonesia’s dying glacier

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

The only glacier in the western Pacific could disappear in less than five years, taking with it vital clues about the earth’s changing climate, a US scientist said Friday.

Ohio State University Professor Lonnie Thompson has just completed what he calls a “salvage mission” to extract ice cores from the glacier on Punjak Jaya, which soars above the tropical, reef-fringed waters of eastern Indonesia.

The ice core samples he collected after his 13-day trip to the Papuan central highlands are set to be shipped back to Chicago on Wednesday for further analysis.

But Thompson said one thing is clear: the glacier is dying.

“This is the only ice in the western end of the Pacific warm pool, which is the warmest water on earth. When it melts that history (from ice cores) is lost forever and there’s no way we can recapture it,” he told AFP.

“My biggest concern is that we may be too late to capture that history. Some is already missing from the top and from the bottom. How much of that history do we still have?”

Thompson estimated the glacier is disappearing at a rate of seven metres (22 feet) a year. As it is only about 32 metres deep, it could be gone in four or five years.

“Looking at the loss of ice that’s been occurring since the 1830s we thought that we were looking at decades (before the Punjak Jaya ice disappeared),” he said.

“But I’ve never been to a glacier anywhere else in the world where it rains every day… If it rains on a glacier then that’s the death of the glacier.”

One of the world’s leading experts, Thompson has visited glaciers from Kenya to Peru. But he said he had never seen anything like what he experienced in Papua, where the ice was visibly melting under his tent.

“It’s the first glacier that I’ve visited where you can hear the water flowing underneath the ice,” he said.

The 88 metres of ice samples from his expedition will be added to the Ohio State University’s valuable archive of tropical ice cores, where it will remain available for researchers years after the glacier itself may have gone.

The study of glacier ice reveals evidence of past climate fluctuations, which can then be referenced with samples from other parts of the planet to get a better understanding of current climate change.

“We hope to be able to reconstruct past temperatures, look at the history of the ice here and compare that with ice from around the world, particularly with ice from the other side of the Pacific Ocean,” Thompson said.

He said he hoped to publish his findings early next year.

Source: US scientist in race to learn from Indonesia’s dying glacier – news.asiaone

Date: 02 July 2010

Drought Hits over 41,000 Bolivian Families

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Bolivian Rural Development Minister Nemesia Achacollo termed critical the environmental and economic situation resulting from the water shortage affecting over 41,000 families in El Chaco (Tarija, Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz).

Minister Achacollo talked of 24,764 hectares of crops, namely maize, sunflowers, peanuts, potato and tomato, while 6,300 bovines are also at risk, hence the urge to municipal and state authorities to support the government efforts.

The announcement follows delivery by President Evo Morales of drills to bore 600m deep water holes, plus three water tankers, trucks and lab facilities, among other logistics purchased to China at $6M, to try and ease the crisis.

Source: Drought Hits over 41,000 Bolivian Families - plenglish

Date: 02 July 2010

Using the rays of the sun to convert sea- to drinking water

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Fraunhofer ISE intends to contribute to the development of solar-powered water desalination plants such as the one shown here, in Gran Canaria. (© Fraunhofer ISE)

Many of the world’s remote areas with water shortages also have three things in abundance: Sun, wind and sea. How renewable energies can be harnessed more effectively in the future to transform salty seawater and brackish water into drinking water is the subject of a current study issued by an EU initiative dubbed “ProDes”.

Worldwide, more and more people are obtaining their drinking water either from the sea or from increasingly salty inland sources. Analysts at Global Water Intelligence, an industry service, estimate that in 2008, desalination facilities around the world produced nearly 52 million cubic meters (12 billion gallons) of water each day – the equivalent of four or five times the daily production of water in Germany.

When it comes to desalination plants run on renewable energies, the spectrum ranges from simple solar distillation plants with a capacity of a few liters a day to wind-powered reverse-osmosis plants capable of desalinating up to nearly 2,000 cubic meters (half a million gallons).

“The more remote the location, the more worthwhile and profitable it is to use plant systems run on renewable energy and to set up a water treatment operation that is not dependent on an external energy supply”, Wieghaus observes.

“ProDes” was launched in October 2008 as an “Intelligent Energy” project of the EU Commission.

Source: Using the rays of the sun to convert sea- to drinking water – physorg

Date: 01 July 2010

Two mln people threatened as China’s largest lake keeps rising

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

More than 2 million people in eastern Jiangxi Province are at risk as China’s largest freshwater lake continues to rise causing parts of the protective embankment to leak, provincial authorities said Wednesday.

Hundreds of soldiers and local residents are patching the leaking sections of the embankment for Poyang Lake in Poyang County. Should they fail, homes and property of nearly 10,000 people will be flooded.

A part of the embankment in Yugan County is also being repaired after three seepages were found Monday. Leaks have also been detected on other sections, according to a statement from Jiangxi’s Drought Prevention and Flood Control Headquarters.

Villagers, officials and soldiers are patrolling all sections of the embankment around the giant Poyang Lake, an important source of water on middle reaches of the Yangtze River, China’s longest, to prevent and fix leaks. The lake covers an area of around 3,050 square km when it’s at an average level. It can expand to 3,583 square km during the rainy season.

Dai Huaixiang, 63, has been paroling the embankment for three days. He does so to protect his hometown Tubei Village, 500 meters away from the embankment.

“No matter how tired, we must keep on watching and prevent the embankment from being breached. Floods are more dangerous than tigers,” Dai said. He fought a massive flood that left more than 3,000 people dead in southern China in 1998.

The lake’s water level has risen to 20.29 meters, 1.29 meters above the alert level, and a record high since 1999, said Luo Xiaoyun, secretary-general of the Drought Prevention and Flood Control Headquarters in Jiangxi Province.

The water level is expected to keep rising as China’s Central Meteorological Observatory has forecast rains in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Rains are also forecast in northern Jiangxi.

The government has invested more than 2 billion yuan (294.2 million U.S. dollars) to strengthen the embankment around Poyang Lake since the flood in 1998. But some parts of the embankment have degraded due to lack of maintenance, said Wen Lin, deputy head of Jiangxi’s water resources department.

To maintain round the clock watch, Changdong Township’s official Yu Zhongqin with other officials, villagers and technicians have moved to the tents on a 795-meter section assigned to Qiangang Village.

At the side of the embankment, stands a post with the names, contact information and responsibilities of patrollers on it.

Li Chunhong and more than 30 other villagers and officials of Ruihong Township have been living in tents on the embankment for over a week. He said all township officials are on duty on the 15-km section of the embankment.

Ye Wei, resident of Ruihong’s Jiangjia Village, with four other villagers, has been walking back and forth to monitor a 300-meter part of the embankment during the morning. Dozens of villagers are taking turns to patrol the embankment round-the-clock.

“No mistakes can be allowed. Or, it will be a catastrophe,” Ye said.

Source: Two mln people threatened as China’s largest lake keeps rising – ReliefWeb

Date: 30 June 2010

Why a hosepipe ban in England’s wettest region?

Friday, June 25th, 2010
UK reservoir capacity vs rainfall - Aug 2009 to May 2010

UK reservoir capacity vs rainfall - Aug 2009 to May 2010

Six months ago parts of north-west England flooded and residents waded knee-deep in muddy water. Now, heading into high summer, a hosepipe ban looms. So why is it suddenly so dry?

Measures of rainfall, soil moisture, river flows and reservoir stocks all show north-west England is low on water.

UK reservoirs

This week United Utilities, the water company that provides water to the region’s seven million people, applied for a drought permit. A look at reservoir stocks across England and Wales shows only the Colliford reservoir on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, has above average stocks.

In the past six months the North West has had much less rain than normal, with certain areas having less than 60% of the long term average. In the past five months, the North West has had its lowest rainfall since 1929, says the Environment Agency.

As rainfall has dropped, so has the water level of its reservoirs. This is because the region is unusual in that it lacks large underground aquifers that can soak up and store rainwater, and so is far more reliant on regular rainfall to keep its supplies topped up.

“Despite receiving record-breaking levels of rainfall in November 2009 in Cumbria, our drinking water relies on water from rivers, lakes and reservoirs,” says an Environment Agency spokesperson. “These are sensitive to changes in the weather, responding quickly to heavy rainfall or dry periods.”

Source: Why a hosepipe ban in England’s wettest region? – BBC

Date: 25 June 2010

Report offers first worldwide estimate of investments in combating water pollution

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

An innovative market in water quality is rapidly emerging worldwide, as cash-strapped governments in countries as diverse as China, the United States, Brazil and Australia invest billions of public and private dollars in schemes that reward people who protect water resources, according to a new report that is the first to quantify payments for watershed services that could help avert a looming global water quality crisis. Calling the water crisis a threat to humanity that exceeds global warming, the authors of the study released today at the global Katoomba conference in Hanoi said that a number of regions of the globe seem to be responding to such frightening indicators as the steady proliferation of “dead zones” in waterways around the world.

In the United States, for example, years of unchecked fertilizer run-off along the Mississippi River have generated algae blooms that have created massive oxygen-starved dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of a small US state.

“Our findings suggest growing awareness by the public and private sectors worldwide of the water quality crisis, and acknowledgement that the problem is too big to be solved by traditional approaches alone,” said Michael Jenkins, Forest Trends President and CEO.

“But the billions of dollars that are being spent on strategies aimed at protecting water resources represent only a snapshot of the potential for using market-based incentives to reduce threats to water.”

In the report, State of Watershed Payments: An Emerging Marketplace, experts at Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing markets for “ecosystem services,” identified roughly 288 programs yielding an estimated US$9.3 billion in payments for watershed protection in 2008. These include payments for watershed services (PWS), in which “land managers” such as farmers and forest communities are paid to maintain water quality, and water quality trading programs (WQT), in which industry and other polluters meet quality standards by buying and selling pollution reduction credits.

Over the last few decades, the total investment was about US$50 billion and affected about 3.24 billion hectares of watershed, which is land that funnels water into major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Yangtze River in China.

“Clearly, a global movement is building that could be rapidly scaled-up to reduce water pollution much the same way carbon markets are intended to reduce greenhouse gases,” Jenkins said.

Marta Echavarria, one of the report co-authors, said that their analysis of payments for water services, as well as for water trading schemes, revealed that many programs around the world are focused on more effective management of forests. Thus, she said it makes sense to link water quality issues to the climate change discussion regarding the use of payments and trading exchanges to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD.

“The same activities in forests that can affect climate change influence water quality and biodiversity, as well,” she said.

“We need to broaden the lens and look at how payments for environmental services can purchase multiple benefits, from clean air to clean water to biodiversity. Then, we can design programs that allow markets to put a value on all of these benefits.”

Trading in Credits for Water Pollution

Water quality trading programs totaled only about US$11 million in 2008, but the authors believe this sector could grow rapidly, much in the way carbon trading has skyrocketed from relatively small investments early in the decade to become a market worth US$144 billion in 2009.

The report highlights the potential for attracting private sector participation by setting up exchanges that would facilitate trading in water pollution credits. Like carbon trading, water trading allows polluters to meet a mandated limit, either by reducing their discharges or by purchasing a credit tied to a reduction achieved elsewhere in the watershed, such as by a farmer, forest owner, or wastewater treatment plant.

“Water trading is poised to expand rapidly as a way to protect water quality,” said Tracy Stanton, Water Program Manager for Ecosystem Marketplace and lead author of the report.

“We found a number of programs already well-established, but to see wider adoption, we need governments to stimulate the markets by setting clear water quality standards that will drive greater demand for pollution credits. Likewise, government is uniquely positioned to help lower the barriers to private sector investors by lowering the perceived risks.”

Most of the 72 trading programs studied in the report are located in the US, but they also can be found in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

For example, in New South Wales, Australia, the Hunter River Salinity Trade Scheme allocates salinity credits that can be traded among 23 coal mining and power generation facilities as a way to meet government-mandated caps on pollution discharge.

The report finds evidence that trading schemes could greatly expand in the US, especially now that the Department of Agriculture has established an Office of Environmental Markets. Already, efforts are underway to develop ecosystem markets in the Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades, the salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest, the forests in the Northeast and in the Ohio River Basin. In addition, China has been conducting water trading pilot programs since the early 1980s and appears to be laying the groundwork around the country for establishing large trading exchanges in ecosystem services, and Europe has been developing a trading scheme to combat declining water quality along the Danube.

Payments for Water Services

The authors note that government funds still make up the bulk of payments for water quality, but there are indications of interest from major players in the private sector. Global beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and SAB Miller have been engaged in watershed protection programs for the past several years. And in France, since the mid 1990s, Nestlé has paid farmers to manage animal waste and reforest sensitive areas to protect the mineral water used in its Vittel line of bottled water.

“While this type of payment may seem quite small at the moment, this is an area in which we are most likely to see tremendous growth,” said Jenkins.

“After all, if the private sector does not start paying for watershed services, then we are missing an important potential solution to this problem. “

For now, the public sector is funding most of the programs of “payments for watershed services,” and the greatest number of programs are in China and the United States.

In China, for example, where 700 million people lack access to safe water, payments in exchange for watershed protection increased from US$1 billion in 2000 to US$7.8 billion in 2008, and the number of programs expanded from 8 to 47. Thus far, these initiatives have protected or restored 270 million hectares. A significant portion of the payments are subsidies for farmers to reduce their pollution in and around forested areas. And in the United States, payments for watershed services have grown from US$629 million in 2002 to US$1.35 billion in 2008, and could expand rapidly, as the federal government has recently taken unprecedented actions to address critical gaps in watershed restoration polices across the country.

But the authors argue that China and the United States could learn much from innovations introduced in the nations of Latin America, where governments are experimenting with new ways of making payments and new methods for measuring and monitoring their impact.

Latin America has emerged as the global leader in innovative market-based clean water programs. Today, there is a range of local, state, and national initiatives underway in ten countries, led by Costa Rica and Mexico, but also including Colombia, Guatemala, and Brazil. In 2009, for example, the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo established a new program that encourages dairy farmers in three river basins to close off pastures in order to improve water quality and flow. Farmers are paid for each liter of milk lost due to the closures, with much of the money coming from water tariffs as well as royalties from oil and gas exploration and hydropower production.

In the nations of Africa, the report identified 20 programs totaling about US$62.7 million, though the authors suggest that the number could grow as new initiatives are underway, including programs supported by the World Wildlife Fund in South Africa and Kenya.

“We now know that payments for watershed services are no longer a series of isolated incidents,” said Stanton.

“Though much remains to be done, we have documented the beginning of a global movement; an emerging marketplace in the protection of water resources.

Source: Report offers first worldwide estimate of investments in combating water pollution – esciencenews

Date: 23 June 2010

Billions spent to protect world water: study

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Billions of dollars — mainly from China — are being poured into a fast-growing global system of rewards for people who protect endangered water resources, according to a study released Wednesday.

The programmes, implemented by governments as well as the private sector and community groups,

“could help avert a looming global water quality crisis,” according to the report by Ecosystem Marketplace, a project of US-based non-profit organisation Forest Trends.

It said the “emerging marketplace” of watershed payments and trading in pollution reduction credits was still dwarfed by the system of carbon trading aimed at limiting damaging greenhouse gases, but was expected to rise.

The study focused on two main instruments, Payments for Watershed Services (PWS), in which farmers and forest communities are compensated for maintaining water quality, and Water Quality Trading (WQT) where industry buys and sells pollution reduction “credits”.

Transactions support a range of activities including adjusting land management practices, technical assistance, and improving water quality, according to the report funded by the United States and The Netherlands.

The report conservatively estimated the total transaction value of active PWS and WQT initiatives at 9.3 billion dollars worldwide in 2008.

This included about 7.8 billion dollars, all of it in PWS schemes, from China where the central government has called for development of “eco-compensation mechanisms”.

Much of these Chinese payments — which compare with a figure of just over one billion dollars in 2000 — go to farmers to reduce their pollution around forested areas, the report added.

“The number and variety of PWS schemes in China have escalated in recent years, from around eight in 1999 to more than 47 in 2008… impacting some 290 million hectares (716 million acres),” it said.

“The picture in the rest of Asia is much less robust,” it added.

In the United States, PWS payments doubled to 1.35 billion dollars in 2008 from 629 million dollars in 2002, said Ecosystem Marketplace.

After China, Latin America had the largest number of active PWS programmes in 2008, with 36, it said.

Water Quality Trading is found mostly in the United States, and accounted for less than 11 million dollars globally in 2008, it added.

Among the threats to global water supply are years of unchecked fertilizer runoff that have led to oxygen-starved “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the researchers said in a statement.

Source: Billions spent to protect world water: study - france24

Date: 23 June 2010

Climate change threatens food supply

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Climate change and extreme weather events pose a grave challenge to the country’s food supply, agricultural researchers have warned.

Gu Lianhong, a senior researcher with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, said the lab’s research had shown climate change will cause China’s per capita grain output will dramatically drop after 2020, even taking technological progress into consideration.

The study suggests the projected geographical pattern of earth’s surface temperature will dramatically increase in the late 21st century (2090-2099). This will cause more extreme weather and climate events to impact such industries as agriculture, Gu said.

He stressed that increasing droughts and heavy precipitation, more intense tropical cyclones and warmer days will very likely happen globally.

“These are all closely related with grain output,” Gu said.

The researcher made the remarks on the sidelines of the International Forum on the Mitigation of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) in World Dryland, which ended over the weekend.

By the 2050s, freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia is projected to decrease, particularly in large river basins, Gu said. The regions’ coastal areas, especially heavily populated mega deltas, will be at great risk due to increased flooding from the sea or rivers.

Because China is the world’s most water-deficient country, climate change will definitely harm its agricultural production, Gu said.

The researcher’s warning came as China is faced with a challenging grain situation this summer because of strong rainfalls in the south during the summer harvest season. Other problems include droughts in northern grain production areas and lingering low temperatures in the south.

In the past few years, the country has experienced more frequent extreme weather events against the backdrop of global climate change. These include severe droughts, ice storms, sandstorms and floods that harm the economy and security.

The severe drought in Southwest China, which has lasted since late 2009 and is one of the worst in decades, has affected about 8.3 million hectares of arable land. It also left at least 17.9 million people and 12.4 million heads of livestock facing water shortages as of this May, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said in a statement.

A report by McKinsey & Co released last year said extreme drought caused by a “high climate change scenario” could more than triple crop losses in Northeast China. They could reach 13.8 million metric tons, or 12 percent of the total, by 2030.

The average annual temperature in China has increased by 0.5 C to 0.8 C, a little higher than the global average, over the past 100 years and especially in the past five decades. But the country’s precipitation volume did not change much during the period, China’s National Climate Change Program said in June 2007.

The average temperature in China will possibly rise 1.3 C to 2.1 C from 2000 to 2020, increasing the risks of extreme weather and climate events in the country, the plan said.

China must maintain an annual grain output of 500 million tons to feed the nation’s 1.3 billion people, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

The country’s summer grain output rose six years in a row to exceed 123.35 million tons in 2009, 2.6 million tons more than the previous year.

Source: Climate change threatens food supply – China Daily

Date: 22 June 2010

Ridge clue to Antarctic ice loss

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
_48114631_pine-island-bay_226_300

Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest in Antarctica

The discovery of an underwater ridge in West Antarctica could help explain why there has been an acceleration in the ice flowing from a glacier in the area.

Researchers suggest that the base of Pine Island Glacier once sat on the ridge, but recently became detached from the feature.

The team made the discovery during surveys that used a unmanned submarine to examine waters under the glacier.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“We found something very unexpected,” said co-author Pierre Dutrieux, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), referring to the 400m-high ridge.

“Acoustic instruments on the submarine told us that there was a ridge at the bottom of the ocean, sitting transverse to the flow of ice.”

Dr Dutrieux said that there was also evidence that the base of the glacier was once attached to the ridge.

“Some decades ago, the glacier was sitting on this ridge and the friction of the ridge was restraining the flow of the glacier,” he explained.

“When the glacier became detached from the ridge, the ice flow was able to accelerate significantly.”

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly.

Dr Dutrieux said that the glacier was located in an area where there was intense melting of land ice, which was flowing into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise.

Researchers estimate that the accelerating flow of glaciers in West Antarctica is contributing about 10% of the observed rise in the mean global sea level.

In 2009, a study of satellite measurements of Pine Island Glacier, which is one of the largest in Antarctica, revealed the surface of the ice was falling at a rate of up to 16m a year.

It added that the glacier was thinning four times faster than it was a decade earlier.

Ice dynamics

Dr Dutrieux said that the discovery of the ridge was an important piece in the jig-saw of factors that could be changing the ice dynamics in the region.

“We have not had a clear understanding of what is driving this melting because the atmospheric forcing – the temperature at the surface – is not warm enough to cause such a melting,” he added.

“So the hypothesis was that it was coming from the ocean, which was melting the ice shelf from below.”

To gather the data, the team launched an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) on six survey missions beneath the floating tongue of Pine Island Glacier.

The submersible was designed and built by a team from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, and funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc).

The seven-metre long vessel, with a range of 400km, carried a multibeam sonar system that allowed it to build up a 3D map of the ocean bed below and ice above.

The AUV has the capability to dive to depths of 1,600m below the surface

The AUV has the capability to dive to depths of 1,600m below the surface

It also was fitted with devices that measured salinity, temperature and oxygen concentrations in the sea water.

This allowed the researchers to gain a better understanding of the flow of water within the ice cavity and the rate of melting.

“We now know that there is relatively warm water beneath this floating ice,” observed Dr Dutrieux, “so this warm water could have been able to melt the base of the ice shelf.

“Another process leading to the ice becoming detached from the ridge could have been a change in the water properties that was grinding the shelf from beneath.”

He said the presence of the ridge would change the basis of future work on ice dynamics in the area.

“Topography is the main thing that constrains ice flow so, basically, it is going to fundamentally change the way people think about this glacier and the way we understand how it behaves.”

Source: Ridge clue to Antarctic ice loss – news.bbc.co.uk

Date: 20 June 2010

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