Antarctic winds speeding up ice melt

MELBOURNE, Australia - Changes in the winds blowing over Antarctica are warming the waters under the continental ice shelf, says a new study.


The changing winds have been linked to a drying climate in southern Australia and now it appears that they are warming the ocean in West and East Antarctica, the study appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.


"When we included projected Antarctic wind shifts in a detailed global ocean model, we found water up to four degrees Celsius warmer than current temperatures rose up to meet the base of the Antarctic ice shelves," said lead author of the study Paul Spence from Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS).


This doubles all previous estimates of warming, and could lead to a massive increase in the rate of ice sheet melt, with direct consequences for global sea level rise. Using super computers, the researchers examined the impacts of changing winds on currents 700 metres deep underwater in greater detail than ever before.


The data suggests that changes in Antarctic coastal winds due to climate change could have a bigger impact on melting of the ice shelves than the broader warming of the ocean.


"When we first saw the results it was quite a shock. It was one of the few cases where I hoped the science was wrong," said Spence.


 

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