Antarctica: Scientists set up station on the Whillans Ice Stream
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Between 2002 and 2020, the frozen continent at the South pole has shed approximately 150 gigatons of ice per year, causing the global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimetres per year, according to NASA. However, a new report shows that this ice loss is not uniform, as a new report finds that in the past 20 years, parts of Antarctica have actually gained ice. The researchers say that sea ice may have protected some of these glaciers from ice loss by pushing against them after a change in regional wind patterns.
Ice shelves, which are floating sections of ice that are attached to land-based ice sheets, serve the vital purpose of protecting against the uncontrolled release of inland ice to the ocean.
During the late 20th century, the continent was struck by high levels of global warming that eventually led to the catastrophic of the Larsen A and B ice shelves in 1995 and 2002, respectively.
The collapse of these ice shelves led to more water being added to the oceans, raising the sea level.
Even now, experts are still not sure about how the sea ice around Antarctica will evolve in response to climate change, and therefore influence sea level rise.
While some models forecast wholescale sea ice loss in the Southern Ocean, others predict sea ice gain in the region.
Now, an international team of researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Newcastle in the UK, and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, have used a combination of historical satellite measurements, along with ocean and atmosphere records, to get the most detailed understanding yet of how ice conditions are changing along the 1,400 kilometre-long eastern Antarctic Peninsula.
The scientists found that 85 percent of the ice shelf perimeter in this part of the continent has advanced since the early 2000s, in contrast to the extensive retreat of the previous two decades.
In the study published in the journal, Nature Geoscience, the researchers have linked the advance of the ice shelf to decade-scale changes in atmospheric circulation, which has led to more sea ice being carried to the coast by wind.
Dr Frazer Christie, from Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and the paper’s lead author, said:”’We’ve found that sea ice change can either safeguard from, or set in motion, the calving of icebergs from large Antarctic ice shelves.
“Regardless of how the sea ice around Antarctica changes in a warming climate, our observations highlight the often-overlooked importance of sea ice variability to the health of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.”
Dr Wolfgang Rack, from the University of Canterbury and one of the paper’s co-authors, said: “It’s entirely possible we could be seeing a transition back to atmospheric patterns similar to those observed during the 1990s that encouraged sea ice loss and, ultimately, more ice-shelf calving.”
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