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27 Jun 2024

Slush – water-soaked snow – makes up more than half of all meltwater on the Antarctic ice shelves during the height of summer, yet is poorly accounted for in regional climate models.

Lead author and Fellow of Trinity Hall, Dr Rebecca Dell, alongside a team of University of Cambridge researchers, has used artificial intelligence techniques to map slush on Antarctic ice shelves, and found that 57% of all meltwater is held in the form of slush, with the remaining amount in surface ponds and lakes.

As the climate warms, more meltwater is formed on the surface of ice shelves, the floating ice surrounding Antarctica which acts as a buttress against glacier ice from inland. Increased meltwater can lead to ice shelf instability or collapse, which in turn leads to sea level rise.

The researchers also found that slush and pooled meltwater leads to 2.8 times more meltwater formation than predicted by standard climate models, since it absorbs more heat from the sun than ice or snow. The results, reported in the journal Nature Geoscience, could have profound implications for ice shelf stability and sea level rise.