After years of stability, Antarctica is losing ice

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by SueEllen Campbell

Until recently, Antarctica’s ice has seemed surprisingly stable. In contrast to the far north, the southern continent’s massive ice sheets, glaciers, ice shelves (ice that floats on the ocean), and seasonal ice appeared to be reliably frozen: Enough snow fell in the high interior to compensate for what melted around the edges. 

But the situation has changed. On balance, Antarctica is now losing ice. And more and more, scientists are concerned about that melting and its potential impacts — from sea level rise to changed ocean and air circulation to stress on wildlife — both local and global. Knowing that there is still much to learn, they are stepping up their research, despite the massive challenges in learning anything in such extreme conditions.

Winter 2023: record-low sea ice

Where did all the Antarctic sea ice go?” “Full Story” podcast, The Guardian. This excellent 19-minute interview by Laura Murphy-Oates with Graham Readfearn (The Guardian’s Australia environment writer) and oceanographer Will Hobbs clearly explains both the anomalous loss of southern sea ice last winter and its larger possible ramifications. 

For a print account of the same situation, see “Dark waters as Antarctic researchers dive into grim climate picture.” Matthew Ward Agius, Cosmos. 

Thwaites Glacier, the widest glacier on Earth:

The Race to Understand Antarctica’s Most Terrifying Glacier.” Jon Gertner, Wired. An interesting portrait of one scientist and the massive research project he is now part of, the ITGC. Though this article dates from before COVID-19 put the project on hold, it has lost none of its relevance.

The extensive website of this joint U.S.-U.K. effort includes a short video with clear graphics, an impressive list of participants, and an article about the goals of the current season, now underway. 

Warming seas are carving into glacier that could trigger sea level rise.” Chris Mooney, Washington Post. An intriguing account of some research from the ’22-’23 season involving a robot exploring channels being cut into the bottom of the ice shelf by warmer water. 

Antarctica’s Upside Down World.” Douglas Fox, BioGraphic. Studying the behavior of ice is leading to some other unexpected discoveries. One, the subject of this surprising piece, is a world of living creatures — such as sea anemones — attached to the bottom of the Thwaites Ice Shelf, far from any sources of light or food. Another story by Fox tells of under-ice rivers, some moving as quickly as a white-water river, and a cavern nearly tall enough to hold the Empire State Building: “A natural ‘cathedral’ lurks deep under Antarctic ice.” Science News Explores.

Beyond Thwaites:

New research sparks concerns that ocean circulation will collapse.” Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360. An influential new analysis, one “being hailed as a sea change in scientific understanding,” predicts that ice melt in the Southern Ocean, not the North Atlantic, may well slow or even shut down the global conveyor belt of heat — and perhaps within a few decades.  


Posted by on Monday, 12 February, 2024

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