Pine Island Glacier has contributed more to sea level rise over the past four decades than any other glacier in Antarctica. Model projections indicate that this will continue in the future but at conflicting rates. Some models suggest that mass loss could dramatically increase over the next few decades, resulting in a rapidly growing contribution to sea level and fast retreat of the grounding line, where the grounded ice meets the ocean. Other models indicate more moderate losses. Resolving this contrasting behaviour is important for sea level rise projections. Here, we use high-resolution satellite observations of elevation change since 2010 to show that thinning rates are now highest along the slow-flow margins of the glacier and that the present-day amplitude and pattern of elevation change is inconsistent with fast grounding-line migration and the associated rapid increase in mass loss over the next few decades. Instead, our results support model simulations that imply only modest changes in grounding-line location over that timescale. We demonstrate how the pattern of thinning is evolving in complex ways both in space and time and how rates in the fast-flowing central trunk have decreased by about a factor five since 2007.
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We thank G.H. Gudmundsson and I. Joughin for comments on a draft of the manuscript. This work was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant NE/N011511/1. J.L.B. was also supported by the European Research Council under grant agreement 694188 and a Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary handling editor: Heike Langenberg.
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Number of observations per km plots for 1 year of CryoSat-2 swath (a) and POCA (b) data. With the mean surface elevation rate derived from swath (c) and POCA (d) data, for the period 2010-2018 for comparison.
Surface elevation rate derived from CryoSat-2 POCA and swath data for three-year moving window centred on the years between 2012-2017 at 4 km postings. The dark red lines are mean velocity contours for the period 2005-2017and the star is the location of the INMN GPS station. The dashed black box is the area shown in Fig. 1 and the solid black line is a composite of the 2011 and 2015 grounding line position.
Standard error to the model fit for ICESat-1 and CryoSat-2, with ICESat-1 tracks overlain on the CryoSat-2 grid. The black dashed line is the grounding line recorded in 2011 and contours are mean velocities for the period 2005-2017.
Ice velocity change calculated between 2013 and 2017 (with white directional arrows) using GoLIVE Landsat 8 ice velocities. Contours are mean velocities for the period 2011 to 2017 and the black dashed line is the grounding line recorded in 2011.
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Bamber, J.L., Dawson, G.J. Complex evolving patterns of mass loss from Antarctica’s largest glacier. Nat. Geosci. 13, 127–131 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0527-z