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“Evidence” Of Tipping Point For Pine Island Glacier

April 5, 2021

By Paul Homewood

From the “We are all going to drown department”


Researchers have confirmed for the first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica could cross tipping points, leading to a rapid and irreversible retreat which would have significant consequences for global sea level.

Pine Island Glacier is a region of fast-flowing ice draining an area of West Antarctica approximately two thirds the size of the UK. The glacier is a particular cause for concern as it is losing more ice than any other glacier in Antarctica.

Currently, Pine Island Glacier together with its neighbouring Thwaites glacier are responsible for about 10% of the ongoing increase in global sea level.


Map of Antarctica

Scientists have argued for some time that this region of Antarctica could reach a tipping point and undergo an irreversible retreat from which it could not recover. Such a retreat, once started, could lead to the collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to raise global sea level by over three metres.

While the general possibility of such a tipping point within ice sheets has been raised before, showing that Pine Island Glacier has the potential to enter unstable retreat is a very different question.

Now, researchers from Northumbria University have shown, for the first time, that this is indeed the case.

Their findings are published in leading journal, The Cryosphere.

Using a state-of-the-art ice flow model developed by Northumbria’s glaciology research group, the team have developed methods that allow tipping points within ice sheets to be identified.

For Pine Island Glacier, their study shows that the glacier has at least three distinct tipping points. The third and final event, triggered by ocean temperatures increasing by 1.2C, leads to an irreversible retreat of the entire glacier.

The researchers say that long-term warming and shoaling trends in Circumpolar Deep Water, in combination with changing wind patterns in the Amundsen Sea, could expose Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf to warmer waters for longer periods of time, making temperature changes of this magnitude increasingly likely.

The lead author of the study, Dr Sebastian Rosier, is a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences. He specialises in the modelling processes controlling ice flow in Antarctica with the goal of understanding how the continent will contribute to future sea level rise. 


Dr Sebastian Rosier at Pine Island Glacier in 2015

Dr Sebastian Rosier at Pine Island Glacier in 2015

Dr Rosier is a member of the University’s glaciology research group, led by Professor Hilmar Gudmundsson, which is currently working on a major £4million study to investigate if climate change will drive the Antarctic Ice Sheet towards a tipping point.

Dr Rosier explained: “The potential for this region to cross a tipping point has been raised in the past, but our study is the first to confirm that Pine Island Glacier does indeed cross these critical thresholds.

“Many different computer simulations around the world are attempting to quantify how a changing climate could affect the West Antarctic Ice Sheet but identifying whether a period of retreat in these models is a tipping point is challenging.

“However, it is a crucial question and the methodology we use in this new study makes it much easier to identify potential future tipping points.”

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Professor of Glaciology and Extreme Environments worked with Dr Rosier on the study. He added: “The possibility of Pine Island Glacier entering an unstable retreat has been raised before but this is the first time that this possibility is rigorously established and quantified.

“This is a major forward step in our understanding of the dynamics of this area and I’m thrilled that we have now been able to finally provide firm answers to this important question.

“But the findings of this study also concern me. Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

The paper, The tipping points and early warning indicators for Pine island Glacier, West Antarctica, is now available to view in The Cryosphere.

Northumbria is fast becoming the UK’s leading university for research into Antarctic and extreme environments.

As well as the £4m tipping points study, known as TiPPACCs, Northumbria is also the only UK university to play a part in two projects in the £20m International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration – the largest joint project undertaken by the UK and USA in Antarctica for more than 70 years – where Northumbria is leading the PROPHET and GHC projects. This particular study was funded through both TiPPACCs and PROPHET.



Notice the frequent use of the word “could”, along with “model”, which is then presented as evidence. Note the scary talk about metres of sea level rise and collapse of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet.

Also note that it is based on the ludicrous assumption that ocean temperatures will rise by 1.2C. There is no mention either of the volcanoes underneath the ice sheet. Or that the glacier is being melted from underneath  by relatively warmer deep ocean currents, as Shepherd et al wrote in 2004:

The temperature of water circulating in Pine Island Bay, which is fuelled by relatively warm circumpolar deep water [Jacobs et al., 1996], is therefore able to account for the ice shelf thinning.


Quite simply, GHGs can have no measurable effect on deep ocean temperatures. This event is natural, and as such has doubtlessly happened many times in the past.

But just suppose the study has got it right. What exactly have they found?



In short, the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is currently retreating at about 10m pa. As the map below shows, the third tipping point would occur when the glacier had retreated by about 25km from today’s position. At current rates, that would take 2500 years.

However they assume that the rate of retreat increases by 0.4m a year. At that rate, the third tipping point would arrive in roughly 330 years time, according to my calculations. This is broadly in line with their figure of 250 years, which seems to be based on a retreat of 20km.

Either way it is way into the distant future, when we will probably be back in another Little Ice Age.

And how much sea level rise will be caused as a result? Just 140mm! Five inches over three centuries.

Unsurprisingly the authors don’t spell out this amount of sea level rise or the period over which it takes place in their press release blurb. Instead they talk about rapid and irreversible retreat, significant consequences for global sea level, collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet and three meters of sea level rise.

There is no possibility that the entire ice sheet would collapse as most of it is grounded above sea level, nor is any evidence presented to that end.




The blurb notes that Northumbria University (formerly Newcastle Poly) gets a £4m grant for this project. I doubt if they would get another 4 million if they put out a report saying nothing alarming was happening.

  1. Philip Mulholland permalink
    April 5, 2021 6:04 pm

    Meanwhile Iceland is undertaking a major geoengineering program to raise its average surface elevation.

  2. April 5, 2021 6:07 pm

    I currently have 3 pet hates:
    1- Photos of people being given the vaccine
    2- Any item or article that states that things will never be the same, and
    3- Any mention of tipping point other than in a child’s playground.
    The Lord preserve us…

  3. Andrew Harding permalink
    April 5, 2021 6:20 pm

    As you say, ‘could, and also ‘might’ feature prominently. Northumbria University used to be Newcastle Polytechnic, apparently it still is in spirit!

    • April 5, 2021 6:30 pm

      Renaming all the old technical colleges and polytechnics “Universities” does not guarantee an improvement in their academic standards. They were created to meet Blair’s foolish goal of 50% of school leavers “going to University”, as a covert means of reducing youth unemployment. And when they got there they accrued a large debt in exchange for, in the main, pretty worthless degrees. Nice one Tony; that’s the legacy of New Labour.

      • John Palmer permalink
        April 5, 2021 7:19 pm

        Sadly, only one legacy of many – and far from the worst!
        Bliar and his cohorts did a great deal of (long-lasting, embedded) damage to our economy and society. And the b****ard is still trying!

      • Duker permalink
        April 5, 2021 10:06 pm

        Further and Higher Education Act 1992 allowed all polytechnics and Scottish central institutions to become universities and award their own degrees rather than degrees….Blair didnt become PM until 1997
        So you are incorrect , 38 took up the offer in 1992 alone including the august Northumbria University.
        Im always amused when people display such fake outrage online.

      • M. Fraser permalink
        April 5, 2021 11:03 pm

        Not incorrect about Mr Blair, though, with his 50% through university, whether or not it was to avoid unemployment queues is tricky to prove, but where would all these graduates get commensurate jobs… most employers have a pyramid system ( non governmental) and its not top heavy with managers! Just another con from the socialists, good old Tony, Fettes must be so proud they’ll be putting up a statue of him, or maybe he’ll be seen as inducing slavery in graduates with poor degrees/jobs.

      • Duker permalink
        April 6, 2021 2:09 am

        The point of the 38 ‘new’ universities alone in 1992 was this process began before Blair and has continued since as the process has got easier. [19 more since 2012]. Whats wrong with more people going to university, its a world wide thing and has zero to do with a single person. Irrational beliefs about why and when have no place in a fact based blog.

      • Sceptical Sam permalink
        April 6, 2021 10:54 am

        I take it, Duker, that you think that irrational beliefs have no place in universities, either?

        If so, you might like to explain how the irrational modelling and ludicrous assumptions found their way into such an august institution as the one that produced this paper?

      • europeanonion permalink
        April 6, 2021 11:29 am

        Much less evident is the extent to which grade inflation has been mounting and contact time decreasing. In an age where a degree is the currency of job seeking you have to wonder to what extent three years of indoctrination by left leaning Dons pollutes minds rather than enhances them.

        Not going to university has become the new 11-plus scandal of rejection at some fundamental point in a child’s life, perhaps Duker has a view? So many of our industrial luminaries seemed to slough off the advantages of degrees and based their careers on being smart.

        We can see with the AGW argument how three misspent years ‘studying’ has produced neurotics with a full roster of shared attitudes and shibboleths. Never in the history of our educational system have single ideas/concepts predominated to such a degree.

        Any resort to statistical analysis, fact, refutation of humbug, that you can reliably connect to here, is opposable by numbers who have no problem maintaining a viewpoint as so many of the their cohort are there to reinforce the ‘truth’. This is not better informed, seems bereft of clever, only suggests that get people at an early age and allow their indoctrination and they are yours for life. An educational system that promotes norms and seems to stand against inquiry has turned our children into slaves of fashion and fodder for tyranny.

      • April 6, 2021 2:21 pm

        Sadly I have to agree. I value the science degree I obtained in 1968, but am worried about the quality of the same if my daughter graduates in 2027; even if she makes it to a Russell Group University

      • Duker permalink
        April 6, 2021 8:16 pm

        I know nothing about the quality of degrees from Northumbria University or any similar university ‘created’ from the 1990s on. Where I live many polytechs are itching to be called University but the government decided there was a higher research standard that they needed to achieve- a grading if you like which meant only 1 has been promoted in the last 25 years. They still award degrees under their own name, just without a university title attached. Other have become more creative with their name, one decided to go the whole hog and became the Universal College of Learning or UCOL which certainly ticks all the boxes of the time we are living in. Im sure those with a diploma in Glass Blowing from UCOL are very proud of their achievement.
        The irrational beliefs were for ideologues who cant get their dates right when commenting

  4. Broadlands permalink
    April 5, 2021 6:47 pm

    “Researchers have confirmed for the first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica could cross tipping points, leading to a rapid and irreversible retreat…”

    Researchers using models are not able to confirm a prediction until after the event has taken place. That’s why they say could, instead of did. But, rapid and irreversible??? That’s really silly.

    • Geeorge Lawson permalink
      April 6, 2021 9:10 am

      It’s amazing what unashamed bullshit can be produced on the back of a £4 million grant.

  5. Gamecock permalink
    April 5, 2021 6:52 pm

    ‘Currently, Pine Island Glacier together with its neighbouring Thwaites glacier are responsible for about 10% of the ongoing increase in global sea level.’

    They literally have no way to know this. It is a preposterous fabrication.

  6. Anaxagoras permalink
    April 5, 2021 7:10 pm

    Interestingly, a paper published on 30th Oct 2015 in the Journal of Glaciology by NASA researcher, Jay Zwally, reported an overall net gain of ice accumulation on Antarctica when he stated: “The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea-level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away.”

    His team had discovered that net ice gains in East Antarctica remained stable at around 200 billion tons per year, compared with losses in West Antarctica Peninsular and surrounding areas (including Pine Island) of 65 billion tons per year; resulting in an overall gain of 135 billion tons per year, which, as expected, is never reported on the BBC.

    Jay Zwally added: “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea-level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea-level rise that is not accounted for.”

    Well, at least there were no “ifs or buts” in his paper. In fact; Mr. Zwally gave quite an honest assessment of ice loss / gains in Antarctica, which is a rarity these days whenever Antarctica is mentioned.

    • Gamecock permalink
      April 5, 2021 10:10 pm

      “If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea-level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea-level rise that is not accounted for.”

      The attribution of sea level changes is completely fake. The size of the container is unknown. Volcanoes, mid ocean rift, sedimentation, etc, are undefined. Sea level up or down, we simply don’t know why.

      You gotta love IPCC false precision fallacy: 0.27 millimeters. Cirrusly? They use a decimal point to show they have a sense of humor.

  7. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 5, 2021 7:22 pm

    It seems common place now in the MSM to describe weather events linked to climate change and future supposed ‘climate’ problems as suddenly proven with the evidence of models. Crazy times. This seems more honest.

  8. April 5, 2021 7:29 pm

    My comment at WUWT on this paper 2 days ago was exactly the same as Paul and others:

    “I note the word “could” and the word “model”. I therefore discount the use of the word “evidence” and put the paper in the round green filing cabinet.”

    • Duker permalink
      April 5, 2021 10:16 pm

      Very apt. I remember some years back with a report of UK deaths from Pollution. It does shorten peoples lives, often insignificant but almost never is a cause of death. I did a word search and ‘modelled’ came up hundreds of times, while ‘measured’ hardly at all. At least they had some measurements, I ‘could’ assume that this Pine Island paper has no measurements at all, which is what they like as a glacier this size is effectively unmeasurable.

      • Penda100 permalink
        April 6, 2021 6:30 am

        Not completely without measurements – £4 million and part of £20 million are both very important measurements.

  9. Aaron Halliwell permalink
    April 5, 2021 9:21 pm

    Meanwhile, Nasa has this to say about the Arctic:

    Any thoughts Paul?

    • April 5, 2021 9:32 pm

      In other words pretty average since 2007, when large amounts of ice were swept out of the Arctic Ocean due to ocean currents

      • Peter permalink
        April 6, 2021 1:20 am

        Here another article about the arctic sea ice extend of this year

        Please note this:
        “The date of the maximum this year, March 21, was nine days later than the 1981 to 2010 median date of March 12.”

        Does it mean that it was freezing longer in the arctic?

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        April 6, 2021 10:09 am

        It keeps freezing after the max. extent as the volume typically keeps increasing for a while longer as the thin peripheries retreat the middle is still thickening.

        This year just reaffirms that any significant decline in Arctic sea ice continues to ‘pause’. This year extent and volume is in the middle of the pack for the last decade or more.

        The full MASIE product shows nothing significant since it began:-

  10. 2hmp permalink
    April 5, 2021 9:35 pm

    Modelling , modelling, modelling,. Always modelling. Scientists or modellers. Take your pick,

  11. Cheshire Red permalink
    April 5, 2021 9:57 pm

    A couple of weeks ago I had a spat with an alarmist BTL woman commentator on Mallen Bakers You Tube channel.

    We were discussing ‘climate change’ and she got all hysterical, as they do. I said there’s no tipping points (in relation to climate change) and invited her to provide some examples.

    After a foot-stamping hissy fit she ran off, never to be engaged with again. No evidence. No example/s, nothing. When called out she scarpered.

    The truth is these people LIE to excuse their big claims and egregiously exaggerated headlines.

    I still haven’t seen proof of a single one, anywhere. It’s just lies, lies, lies.

    • April 6, 2021 8:41 am

      She reached her tipping point 😆

      • Cheshire Red permalink
        April 6, 2021 10:30 am

        Ha! She certainly did.

        I might try provoking her this afternoon. See if she’s found any actual, ya know, evidence?

  12. tomo permalink
    April 5, 2021 10:32 pm

    OT – but worthy of comment I feel….

    Sly Nooze are launching the “Daily Climate Sho-owe” (with apology to Deputy Dawg)

    The Osterly Sky Campus dwellers really need to re-brand as MSNBC-UK to reflect their American Democratic Party allegiances and editorial control….

    • mjr permalink
      April 5, 2021 11:11 pm

      bbc are advertising a couple of different climate disaster scare programmes over the next couple of weeks .. cant wait!!!

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        April 6, 2021 9:16 am

        Oh yes, our little Swedish Doom Goblin, is being wheeled out again.

  13. Gary Kerkin permalink
    April 5, 2021 11:14 pm

    This model this is interesting but it does not involve a general circulation model. In other words it is not a climate model. It is a physical model of the dynamics of ice flow under changing temperatures. What code I looked is reasonably clear and well documented. However there appears to be no attempt to validate the model results by comparing them with real-world data. I did find a section of code labelled “data” but it it turned out to be a couple of images showing ice-flow maps. I was unable to find any information which would validate the model. Has anyone found such?

  14. April 6, 2021 10:09 am

    They can’t comprehend that their dream of a Montreal Protocol for the climate has died and they still believe that all they have to do is to crank up the fear level.

  15. April 6, 2021 12:23 pm

    A 2008 article in Wattsupwiththat, announces the discovery of an active volcano under Antarctica’s western shelf. I notice that this latest Chicken Licken episode fails to mention this tiny fact. Heat from the volcano melts the layer above and allows for large sheets to slide and break off (calving).

  16. Bob Webster permalink
    April 6, 2021 12:58 pm

    Perhaps the people will reach a “tipping point” with these hysterical claims related to “human-caused-climate change” (a hubris-dominated belief) as climate cools dramatically over the next 30 or so years. Mother Nature has a way of slapping down these climate change clowns. Witness the continued growth of Glacier National Park’s glaciers as the “Gone by 2020” signs were being removed! Sadly, the clowns just keep popping up again spouting the same nonsense… lending new meaning to the term “poppycock”!

  17. April 6, 2021 1:55 pm

    2,500 will most probably be close to the next MINIMUM of the natural climate cycle in the NH. It has a period of c.1Ka. The current warm maximum is a natural part of this. The next cold minimum is likely to be the COLDEST EVER this interglacial, for 8Ka at least. Check Greenland ice cores if you doubt this – annotated GISP2 raw data attached. BTW W.Antarctica is atop 140 Volcanoes(UoE), which makes it “different” from most of brutally Antarctica upon thermally stabilising global oceans. Just the facts, Ma’am.

    Not a lot of people seem to study the observed scientific record when making these elementary mistakes to support a belief system, though.

    Especially so called “climate experts” who seem to prefer a theory of monotonic change to the natural cycles recorded in the proxy data they simply ignore, to “prove” their presumptive theories by simple extrapolation in defiance of the observational evidence. That is of a tightly controlled system (controlled by oceanic evaporation in response to SST change, and the clouds that varies, 150W/m^2 of negative feedback currently).

    These denials of nature and presumptions regarding the actual level of change some small effect can cause to the natural cycle are obvious and basic flaws in the fabricated pseudo science that government prefers to fund, while suppressing publication of the natural reality of 21st Century science that disproves the 20th Century consensus with observations of the climate, how it really changes, and from what provable causes – AKA real science you can prove by observation vs. consensual science you make up and agree on (quicker, easier, more remunerative, no proof required, just consensus. Like religion only with made up science instead, same ideas of attributing a cause to an effect by correlation alone, etc. “Trust in me, sayeth the climate scientist”. No thanks, I’m a physicist..).

    You can’t make it up, that’s their job.

    Click to access worlds-largest-volcanic-range-may-lurk-beneath-antarctic-ice-13-08-2017.pdf

  18. Gerry, England permalink
    April 6, 2021 2:13 pm

    The only plus point is that the £4m is EU funding so not just the UK taxpayers having to fund this junk science.

  19. John Jessop permalink
    April 7, 2021 10:51 am

    I am currently reading the chapter on ‘Ice’ in Ian Plimer’s book, “Heaven and Earth – global warming and the missing science”. It is a brilliant book by an outstanding scientist who demonstrates on just about every page, of which there are 493 plus index, how shallow is the so called science of man made global warming. The hypotheses that are used in the modals have been disproved time and again and yet they are still used to promote the alarmist scares. I am sick to death of the lies that are being paddled by this cult.

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