Donald Blankenship researches which ice sheets melt first

Donald Blankenship: In a world of global change, of a warming climate, which ice sheets are likely to go off first?

That’s research scientist Donald Blankenship at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas. Since the late 1970’s, he’s been studying the ice sheets in Antarctica using an airborne radar system. He told EarthSky that certain ice sheets are more susceptible than others to melting.

Donald Blankenship: In particular, the ones that have their bottoms below sea level. In other words, if the ice went away, the ocean would rush in and and fill in behind them. They call them marine ice sheets. Marine ice sheets have the capacity to turn their ice into sea level rise quite quickly. And that’s our big concern.

Since 2008, Blankenship has been concentrating on the East Antarctic ice sheet – more than a third of which is below sea level. Blankenship estimates that the ice contained within this ice sheet has the potential to raise global sea level by 60 meters, or 200 feet.

Donald Blankenship: We have one last great ice sheet – it’s the East Antarctic ice sheet. We don’t know what its future implies for us. These great ice sheets may be at the end of the earth, but they’re much more important than their distance implies

Blankenship’s projects is part of the IPY – the International Polar Year – an international effort to push boundaries forward in studies of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Our thanks to:
Donald Blankenship
Institute for Geophysics
University of Texas

January 23, 2009

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