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Antarctica Is Melting
Emily Gertz, 25 Jan 05

Today's New York Times reports that on the Antarctic peninsula, glaciers are melting and thinning, and ice shelves are collapsing or shrinking.

"[A]ll possible indications of global warming," in the cool phraseology typical of the Times.

The melting on the Antarctic Peninsula is remarkably similar to climate conditions observed in the Arctic, and detailed in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment released last November.

Thus far, all of the ice shelves that have collapsed are located on the Antarctic peninsula. In reality a collection of islands, mountain ranges and glaciers, the peninsula juts northward toward Argentina and Chile and is "getting really hot, competing with the Yukon for the title of the fastest warming place on the globe," in the words of Dr. Eric Steig, a glaciologist who teaches at the University of Washington.

British Antarctic Survey scientists have seen grass growing on the peninsula where before was only ice.

A scientific study published in Geophysical Research Letters, cited in the Times article, reports that the speed at which three important glaciers are thinning increased eightfold from 2000 to 2003, with "tens of meters per year" of ice disappearing. And an author of that study tells the Times that similar trends are being seen closer to the South Pole, on the western part of the main continent, where there is a lot more inland ice:

"This is probably the most active part of Antarctica," said Dr. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the principal author of the Geophysical Research Letters paper. "Glaciers are changing rapidly and increasingly discharging into the ocean, which contributes to sea level rise in a more significant way than any other part of Antarctica."

Conditions on Antarctica are complex. Scientists say the interactions between the glaciers and ice shelves are not completely understood, and that a lot more research is vital. They also seem to agree that the changes on Antarctica represent disruptions in millenia-old climate patterns.


Links: Real Climate on Antarctic warming and cooling trends; British Antarctic Survey's very brief overview of melting ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula; Alex on Antarctic resources at risk.

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