Evidence Shows Geothermal Activity Linked To West Antarctic Ice Melt

Climate Change Dispatch
Written by James Edward Kamis, guest post on 19 December 2014.

Since the initial posting of the Plate Climatology Theory here at Climate Change Dispatch, new information has been continually incorporated into the theory thereby substantiating its basic premises. The theory was considered “plausible,” and it was suggested that climate scientists should at the very least give it some consideration.

Recently, Antarctic Ice Core research confirmed that two very powerful sub-glacial volcanic eruptions occurred in modern times on the Antarctic Continent, which pushes the Plate Climatology Theory into the “probable“ category.

In a nutshell, increased global tectonic activity equates to more faulting and crustal plate movement which leads to more geothermal heat and in many cases associated fluid release from faults, fractures, and volcanoes that are more active. Altered heat and fluid release equates to changes in the climate.

This effect has been largely hidden from scientific investigation because the primary heat release is in under-explored and under-monitored deep ocean regions that contain major geological features such as; Rift Systems (crustal plate pull-apart boundaries), Subduction Zones (crustal plate converging boundaries), Transverse Fault Systems (crustal plate side sliding boundaries), and High Heat Flow Volcanic Regions.

Varying tectonic activity from these major geological features alters ocean temperatures, densities, and chemical composition. The “altered oceans” then influence or drive climate changes and climate-related events.

It seems logical that if these geological features have the power to move continents 2-3 centimeters per year (about as fast as your fingernail grows), create large tsunamis that mix thousands of feet of ocean column, support vast chemosynthetic communities, and contain 70% of the planet’s known active volcanoes, that the forces associated with these features could certainly and easily influence our oceans, our atmosphere, and most importantly, our climate in a dramatic fashion.

What follows is only a portion of the entire write-up, plus a section that provides details on the Antarctic continent, and puts the newly documented sub-glacial volcanic eruptions in a broader geological context.

Ice sheet and climate variations on the Antarctic Continent during the last thirty years cannot be easily explained utilizing current atmospheric-based climate models. A list of these ice sheet and climate variations is as follows:

  • The overall extent of the ice sheet has steadily expanded for the last thirty years including those portions that extend out onto the ocean.
  • Atmospheric CO2 content has steadily increased for the last thirty years.
    Selective portions of the ice sheet are retreating / melting, some at very high rates.
  • Melting of the ice sheet is from beneath, not from above.
  • There are subtle but measurable differences in atmospheric temperatures between eastern and western Antarctica.
  • There are unusual plankton blooms in the Ross Ice Sheet area.
  • There is thinning and sagging of the continental portion of the Ice Sheet along the West Antarctic Rift
  • The presence of two “modern” sub-glacial volcanic eruptions (updated 12-18-2014)

Why is there selective melting of certain ice sheets, such as the Ross Ice Sheet, that extends out from the continent onto the Ross Sea? They are melting / retreating at a significant rate. A rate that is especially anomalous when compared to the majority of other Antarctic glaciers, including those that extend out onto the ocean, but are advancing!

For nearly ten years it has been suggested that heat flow from a geological feature was the likely reason for this local ice sheet melting. Recent publications strongly support, if not prove, that this is in fact the case.

Research shows that heat release from the active West Antarctic Rift system is indeed happening today. Refer to the map below that illustrates the position of the Western Antarctic Rift / Transantarctic Mountains. This notion is also supported by the recent publications that show the Ross Ice sheet is melting from beneath, not from above. This is due to geologically induced geothermal heat circulating from the West Antarctic Rift System, which extends beneath the ice sheet.

Sub-Glacial freshwater lakes have long been known to exist beneath areas of the continental ice sheets in Antarctica. Prior to their actual discovery, Russian glaciologists had theorized they could exist based on pressure-loading of the overlying ice sheet and resulting temperature increases at the base of the glaciers. Once the presence of these sub-glacial lakes was confirmed, scientists lacked a credible explanation for their existence. The pressure theory was not considered a plausible explanation for their generation.

At the dawn of the manmade global warming theory, many climate scientists contended that these lakes were proof that atmospherically heated ocean water somehow seeped up under the glaciers, thereby melting their glacial bases. Even today, many climate scientists, including those at NASA, still cling to this theory even in the face of vast amounts of research that do not support this theory.

Significant research from numerous universities and organizations such as the University of Texas, Aberdeen University, and others clearly shows that the West Antarctic Rift system is very active. This activity is expressed geologically as high-rift spreading rates, presence of an active volcano (Mount Erebus), and most importantly a very high geothermal flux.

These lakes and associated streams are clearly related to melting from geologically generated geothermal heat sources: either heat transmitted by faults related to the West Antarctic Rift, or from volcanic-like features that are also associated with the West Antarctic Rift.

Significant amounts of new research has measured / documented elevated heat flow, unusual mineral content, and unusual biota in the sub-glacier lakes and streams. All strong indicators of geothermal heat flow. It is important to note that the confirmation of this geothermal heat flow was not completely confirmed until scientists drilled into the lakes and took temperature readings.

A better explanation for the presence of sub-glacial Antarctic freshwater lakes is geothermal heat flow. It is now likely that the entire Antarctic continent has at least some low level of heat flow that is causing minor melting across the entire continent. The majority of this elevated heat flow occurs in regions associated with the West Antarctic Rift System. However, it is likely that a vast interconnected sub-glacial freshwater system is present across the entire continent, but it is not recognizable with today’s technology.

Current technology can only detect freshwater lakes and streams at the coastlines and other areas within the continent’s interior where they are substantial enough to detect. Even with these limitations a very large number of lakes and connecting streams have been identified.

As more information is collected, and as detecting techniques improve, they will probably find that the a very large interconnected freshwater drainage system exists across the entire continent with lakes, streams, and a unique hydrologic system related to the continent’s geology. This geology includes faulting, geothermal heat flow, fracturing, differential sedimentation, etc.

A map of one such lake and stream system is shown in the map below, which shows fault lines based on the very linear nature of the area’s topography and the known occurrence of faulting in this general location.

Also shown below is the most current map available that illustrates the location of known sub-glacial freshwater lakes (red dots on map). The majority of these lakes occur in association with the giant geothermally active West Antarctic Rift System (thick black lines on map). One other prominent feature of the map is a very large circular area (marked with a white line and labeled Volcanic). This area was postulated to the remnants of a large extinct / collapsed volcano. Just published research, see below, confirms that this circular feature is very likely an extinct volcano.

According to recently released statements by NASA, Antarctic glaciers are receding at alarming rates due to atmospheric global warming. One of their primary examples is the Amundsen Embayment Area. (see map below)

NASA theorizes that slightly warm seawater is being “channelized” from the ocean laterally underneath the glaciers along a recently documented long topographically low valley that exists beneath the ice. Basically NASA contends that a gravity-defying river flows uphill from the ocean through a large, linear deep valley. It then extends into the continent and is transmitting warm seawater great distances into the continent.

It has been named the Ferrigno Valley based on research by Robert Bingham of Aberdeen University. For more information on this research, go here.

Another very important research project by the University of Texas and lead author Dustin Schroeder, concluded that glaciers in the Amundsen Embayment Area were melting in response to geothermally melted water traveling toward the ocean. (http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/06/10/antarctic-glacier-melting/)

Schroeder’s work shows that geothermal heat flow in the Amundsen Embayment area is the likely cause of accelerated glacier melting. It is important to note that this work was done in cooperation with NASA, the same government organization that blamed West Antarctic ice melt on atmospheric global warming.

NASA next states that warm ocean water extends miles out into the ocean from Antarctica. This is not at all surprising, as the giant West Antarctic Rift system extends far into the ocean and is likely emitting heat into the ocean above it, making the ocean warmer. Dizzy yet?

Deep ocean rifts release heat and effect earth’s climate and climate related events. The map below shows the approximate location of the West Antarctic Rift System and the currently active volcano Mount Erebus, which is part of the rift system.

Unusual plankton blooms, such as those recently observed in the Ross ice sheet area, are theorized to have been caused by geothermally altered ocean water. This geothermal activity has acted to change the Ross Ice ocean region in many ways that stimulate Plankton Blooms primarily by increasing deep ocean upwelling currents which have increased the supply of needed CO2, phosphorous, and nitrogen.

Other recent publications indicate that the Ross Ice Sheet is anchored to the sea bottom along its entire length, save for a few recently defined points where continental water appears to be flowing under the ice sheet into the Ross Sea. The most likely source of this water will be from the rift, an actively heated and fluid-emitting part of the rift.

It is theorized that subtle but measurable differences in atmospheric temperatures between eastern and western Antarctica are also the result of local temperature variations in warmer ocean water, which is near the center of these geological processes.

Keep in mind that the majority of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing. In fact, overall ice extent in Antarctica has been increasing for more than thirty years (when satellite observations began), primarily in areas not near the West Antarctic Rift system.

This indisputable fact is the best evidence that atmospheric global warming is not having a measurable effect on Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers, and that the western portion of the continent is losing mass solely from powerful geothermal processes.

New research published yesterday indicates that two violent sub-glacial eruptions “punched through” the West Antarctic Ice Sheet about 23,000 and 45,000 years ago, near the West Antarctic divide.

This is hugely significant in many ways: It shows that geologically induced volcanic / geothermal activity has been occurring continuously on the Antarctic continent and associated offshore regions for many years. It also indicates that this geological system has enough power to melt “millions of gallons of water.”

The still very powerful Antarctic Rift System can melt significant amounts of the Antarctic glacial ice sheet in a relatively short time period, and it certainly has a very strong effect on the Antarctic climate. Even more interesting is the possibility that this system could have a direct effect on several major aspects of the Earth’s climate:

  • ) Worldwide Sea Level rise
  • ) Alteration of selected deep ocean currents
  • ) Alteration of significant portions of worldwide climate patterns

Climate scientists have theorized for many years that the melting of West Antarctic ice and glaciers is due to manmade global warming. The problem, though, is that the observed facts don’t support their theory.

As evidence mounts that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting due to its geology, including a very active and extensive rift system that emits significant amounts of geothermal heat, climate scientists will once again need to throw out their computer models that do not incorporate these powerful geological influences.

James Edward Kamis is a Geologist and AAPG member of 40 years and has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. Years of research / observation have convinced him that the Earth’s Heat Flow Engine, which drives the outer crustal plates, is also an important driver of the Earth’s climate. You can contact James using our Contact Us form.