Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
If you feel like you haven’t heard about melting icebergs in a long time, which became a hot topic in the climate change conversation back in the late 2000s to the late 2010s, you’re not alone. Research didn’t stop, though, and now there’s a new way to track individual icebergs.
A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool used data from satellite radar to identify icebergs, which, according to the British Antarctic Survey, show up as bright signals “because of the crystalline structure of the ice and snow on the surface.” AI was able to identify over 30,000 icebergs based on satellite images taken over the course of one year.
The AI technology allows researchers to track changes in the amount, size and pathways of icebergs.
“The method we used is as accurate as the other alternative iceberg-detection methods, and outperforms most, without the need for human input,” said Ben Evans, lead author of the paper on this technology. “This means it can be easily scaled up beyond our study area and even provide near real-time monitoring.”
Researchers specifically focused on the Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, because one of the tipping points for rising sea-levels is an increased amount of icebergs breaking off ice chunks from its edges and margins. It’s known as “calving,” and it is becoming more common in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is the largest block of ice in the world.
There’s certainly reason for concern. According to NASA, West Antarctic glaciers, which are large masses of ice that initially form on land, already provide a pathway for melting ice from the Antarctic Ice Sheet to enter the sea. Hence, it’s possible that more ice will flow toward the sea at quicker paces.
Scott Hosking, the co-director of the Turing Research and Innovation Cluster in Digital Twins, said that there are challenges to “monitoring and predicting” ice melt. However, the research team is designing a virtual model of Antarctica to help with data collection and sharing.
In the meantime, ice keeps melting at furious rates. Research from 2021 showed that the rate of ice loss increased by 65% within 23 years.
The extending consequences haven’t been revealed yet because there are still ice caps, glaciers and icebergs, even if they’re diminishing with rising heat. However, flooding in coastal cities is a real concern, and there are animals and plants in the Arctic to consider, too.
For now, iceberg movement and development is a tool to understanding climate change’s effects as a whole.
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