Science

Watch as an ancient ice sheet covers the British Isles before disappearing in eerie stop-motion animation.

In an animation that spans tens of thousands of years, an ancient ice sheet grows to cover the land masses that will one day be known as Great Britain and Ireland. As thousands of years pass, the ice retreats to expose the land again.

Known as the British-Irish Ice Sheet, the frozen mass began its relentless movement about 33,000 years ago. About 10,000 years later, the ground was covered in half a mile of ice. But just 5,000 years later, the glacier melted away, disappearing in the blink of an eye of geologic time. The human population, fleeing the millennial winter, returned to populate the thawing lands, just in time for the last ice age. (will open in a new tab) came to an end on earth.

This animation, representing years of research, shows how quickly the British-Irish Ice Sheet has shrunk. And the data driving the animation could help scientists better understand how modern-day ice loss due to climate change is contributing to sea level rise.

RELATED: Ancient Ice Sheets’ ‘Death Agony’ Carved Hidden Valleys Beneath the Seabed

Scottish geologist Archibald Geikie first mapped the shape of the British-Irish Ice Sheet in 1894, and over the last century, scientists have gradually studied the details of its formation and decline, publishing their findings in more than 1,000 scientific publications, according to the BRITICE website. -TIMER (will open in a new tab) a five-year, $4.2 million attempt to map the British-Irish Ice Sheet. Ultimately, it was the spectrum of anthropogenic climate change that prompted one team of BRITICE-CHRONO researchers to combine existing data and collect more; they published their findings on September 7 in the journal Boreas. (will open in a new tab). By creating a new animation, scientists have visualized the most complete picture to date of the rise and fall of the ancient ice sheet.

The BRITICE-CHRONO team reviewed previous research and collected data on the more than 20,000 landforms that currently exist along the ice sheet’s path, from hilly drumlins or small ridges to masses of soil and rock left behind by a moving glacier. The scientists then visited sites on land and at sea, collecting data from 914 sites, some of which were only accessible from a submarine, they said in the study. They calculated the geometric contours of the ice sheet from the features of the relief, estimating the time it took the glacier to retreat from carbon. (will open in a new tab)-dated deposits, including animal remains.

Their efforts yielded three times more data than any previous modeling of the British-Irish Ice Sheet; The team then fed the data into a computer model that estimated how the ice would have interacted with its environment over tens of thousands of years. Their animation presented the resulting maps as a time-lapse of glacier expansion and eventual death.

Although this particular ice sheet melted thousands of years ago, the details of its growth and collapse could serve as a lesson to climate scientists studying the alarming decline of two modern ice sheets: one in Antarctica. (will open in a new tab) and the other in Greenland (will open in a new tab). Since 1901, these two ice sheets have lost 49,000 gigatonnes of ice—enough to cover the United States in 22 feet (6.7 meters) of ice, or enough to cover the entire surface of the Moon in a five-foot (1.5 m) ice sheet. high, according to NASA (will open in a new tab).

This melted ice ended up in the ocean, where it has been the biggest contributor to sea level rise in the past few decades, according to the UN International Panel on Climate Change. (will open in a new tab). Even if humans cut all fossil fuel emissions tomorrow, a 2022 study in the journal Nature Climate Change (will open in a new tab) suggests that ice lost from the Greenland ice sheet would still cause sea levels to rise by 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Rising sea levels, in turn, will likely mean more severe storms with more severe flooding. (will open in a new tab); disruption of fragile ecosystems; and the massive displacement of millions of people living along the coast. The researchers said projects like BRITICE-CHRONO, which look back at the lifespans of long-vanished ice sheets, could help scientists predict the decline of today’s ice sheets and plan for the future.

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