West Antarctica heating up fast

The Emperor penguins may need to invest in some sunscreen.

West Antarctica is warming up twice as fast as scientists previously thought. Researchers from Ohio State University have been looking at information collected at Byrd Station, an outpost in Marie Byrd Land, which shows that the area is heating up by 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit every year. So far, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is still too cold to see any melting and most likely won’t for a few decades to come. But warming trends are more extreme in the summer, when Antarctica sees the most seasonal melting, according to study author David Bromwich:

Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface mass balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea level rise than it already does.

Even without generating significant mass loss directly, surface melting on the WAIS  could contribute to sea level indirectly, by weakening the West Antarctic ice shelves that restrain the region’s natural ice flow into the ocean.

WAIS is about 10 million square miles. Should the sheet melt, it would add an average of 10 feet to the sea level globally. So far, we’ve only seen a rise of a few inches due to global warming.

Perhaps the Emperors will need some water-wings as well.


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