West Antarctic Ice Sheet exposed to Warmer than expected Temperatures

Henry Brecher, Ohio State University, research associate (now retired) at Byrd Polar Research Center, took this picture in winter 1959-1960. The sign reads: Astronomical Position Observed Here. Credit: Photo by Henry Brecher, courtesy of Ohio State University. Usage Restrictions: None

(Best Syndication News) - The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has the potential of melting at a faster pace because the temperature increased twice as much as expected. The average annual temperatures recorded at the Byrd Station increased 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 1958. The research findings were published in the online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.

This temperature increase is three times faster than the average temperature rise around the world. David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center, noticed the warming trends were occurring during the summer months – December through February – and the temperature increase is almost double what previous research had suggested.

The pace is accelerating. Bromwich explained that the rising temperatures could cause an even larger increase in sea levels. The West Antarctic ice shelves help maintain a natural ice flow into the ocean, and if the surface of the WAIS melts it could weaken this barricade.

Andrew Monaghan, study co-author and scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said the West Antarctica region is experiencing one of the fastest rise in temperatures throughout the world.

Ohio State University doctoral student Julien Nicolas explained that the WAIS is more susceptible to the effects of climate change because the ice sheets rest below sea level and are in contact with warmer ocean water. Each year, the melting ice adds around 0.3 mm to the sea level. Comparatively, Greenland’s melting ice contributes as much as 0.7 mm per year.

It is difficult to get timely and correct temperature measurements at the Byrd Station because it is not manned year-round. The Byrd Station was established in 1957, which allowed temperature information to be gathered. However, as technology improved in 1980, a year-round automated weather station was installed. This was problematic because temperatures were not always gathered during long nights; the solar panels were not able to power the weather station.

Bromwich, along with two of his graduate students and colleagues from NCAR and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used the temperature data collected from the Byrd station and used a computer atmospheric model and a numerical analysis system to help determine what the temperatures were on the days that the temperature was not recorded.

Bromwich suggests that a better more accurate recording of weather should be implemented in the Antarctic to better understand what is truly going on in this rapidly changing region.

By: Julie Marcus
Science and Technology Writer

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