US researchers have found that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is warming nearly twice as fast as previously thought. Combining previous data with computer models of the atmosphere and a numerical analysis method, the researchers were able to fill in the missing observations from previous records kept at Byrd Station, located near the center of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientists are now worried that the warming ice could accelerate the rise in sea levels.
The study results show an increase of 36.32 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in average annual temperature between 1958 and 2010. First evidence of warming was found during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months. Although it’s natural to expect slightly warmer weather during the summer, the temperatures in Antarctica rarely rise above freezing.
“What we’re seeing is one of the strongest warming signals on Earth,” says Andrew Monaghan, a co-author and scientist at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research. “This is the first time we’ve been able to determine that there’s warming going on during the summer season,” he added.
Previous research showed that warm ocean water was causing the ice to melt, but new work shows that the atmosphere is playing a significant role as well. Researchers suggest that the warming can be contributed to winds and weather patterns coming from the Pacific Ocean. There are concerns that melting ice will lead to rising sea levels. However, scientists say that the run-off of melting waters into the sea is unlikely to happen for several decades – most of the water runs down the ice sheet and refreezes, causing ice shelf-collapses similar to the violent collapse of the Larsen B shelf in 2002.
Via BBC News