Harvard Study: Melting Polar Ice Is Physically Warping the Planet

The crust appears to shift for hundreds of miles as ice melts.
Elastic Earth

Rising temperatures are melting Arctic ice at an alarming pace, and the resultant rise in sea level will change coastlines all over the globe. A new study reveals that melting ice can physically alter the Earth's crust, and may have even greater effects on the planet.

According to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters last week, the outermost layer of our planet's surface is quite elastic. Harvard scientists found that crust expands after ice melts, but does not always return to its original shape.

This study shows that deformations can be larger than scientists believed and that they can have significant effects on ecosystems for thousands of years.

Still Recovering

Parts of the Arctic's crust are expanding as if it were a balloon, even though the 11,000 year old ice age has lifted its weight. Climate change is causing more melting ice, which means that the expansions and warping effects of climate change are magnified, creating a complex landscape.



Recent timescales have led us to think of Earth as an elastic structure like a rubber band. However, on timescales of many thousands of years, Earth behaves more like a slow-moving fluid. The Ice Age processes take a long time to unfold, so we still can see their results today.

Rolling Hills

Scientists find it valuable to be able monitor the ballooning. Coulson stated in the release that understanding how the earth changes shape allows scientists to better predict earthquakes and tectonic movements.

It also has implications on climate change. Coulson stated that as Antarctic ice melts, the crust pushes to the outside, it can deform and push bedrock from its original position, further dislodging ice, and creating a vicious circle leading to more melting.

READ MORE: Polar ice melting Earth itself, not just sea level [Harvard University]



Further information on melting ice: Switzerland covers Glacier with Giant Blankets to Keep It from Melting

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