Antarc­tica warm­ing faster than pre­dicted

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT -

New re­search sug­gests that West Antarc­tica has warmed much more than sci­en­tists had thought over the last half-cen­tury, an omi­nous find­ing given that the huge ice sheet there may be vul­ner­a­ble to long-term col­lapse, with po­ten­tially dras­tic ef­fects on sea level.

A report re­leased Sun­day by the jour­nal Na­ture Geo­science found that the tem­per­a­ture at a re­search sta­tion in the mid­dle of West Antarc­tica has warmed by 4.4 de­grees Fahren­heit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as sci­en­tists pre­vi­ously thought and three times the over­all rate of global warm­ing, mak­ing cen­tral West Antarc­tica one of the fastest-warm­ing re­gions on Earth.

“The sur­prises keep coming,” said An­drew J. Mon­aghan, a sci­en­tist at the Na­tional Cen­ter for At­mo­spheric Re­search in Boul­der, Colo., who took part in the study. “When you see this type of warm­ing, I think it’s alarming.”

Warm­ing in Antarc­tica is rel­a­tive. West Antarc­tica re­mains an ex­ceed­ingly cold place, with av­er­age an­nual tem­per­a­tures in the cen­ter of the ice sheet that are nearly 50 de­grees F be­low freez­ing.

But the tem­per­a­ture there does some­times rise above freez­ing in the sum­mer, and the new re­search raises the pos­si­bil­ity that it might be­gin to hap­pen more of­ten, po­ten­tially weak­en­ing the ice sheet through sur­face melt­ing. The ice sheet is al­ready un­der at­tack at the edges by warmer ocean water, and sci­en­tists are on alert for any fresh threat.

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