Antarctic Peninsula Getting Warmer, Man-Made Global Warming May Be Prolonging The Melting Season
The Antarctic Peninsula is warming much faster than the rest of Antarctica with research showing that over the last 60 years the peninsula's summer melting season has extended, possibly an effect of human-induced global warming.
Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula - a mountainous region extending northwards towards South America's southern tip - have risen at a rate three times the global average since the 1950s, according to new research by the British Antarctic Survey.
The increases summer melting has been linked to the rapid breakup of ice shelves in the area and rising sea levels.
The British Antarctic Survey states that such levels of melting may be linked to man-made global warming. Recent warming "is unique within the context of the past 10,000 years, raising the possibility that the Antarctic Peninsula warming is a regional manifestation of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect," the survey reported.
While the majority of Antarctica does not have a summer melting season, the peninsula's annual melt produces many isolated, snow-free areas that serve as communities for primitive plants, microbes and invertebrates, as well as breeding ground for marine mammals and birds.
In addition to providing habitat for life, the melting season may also have effects on the speed at which glaciers break off and flow into the sea as well as contribute to the thickness and density of snow layers.
While working for the British Antarctic Survey, Dr. Nick Barrand analyzed satellite data from 30 weather stations on the peninsula.
"We found a significant increase in the length of the melting season at most of the stations with the longest temperature records" he said in a statement. "At one station the average length of the melt season almost doubled between 1948 and 2011."
The research found that meltwater is likely enlarging the cracks in floating ice shelves by using the decades' worth of data to determine that several major ice shelf breakup events coincided with longer than usual melt seasons, supporting the theory that enlargement of cracks by meltwater is the main mechanism for ice shelf weakening and collapse.
Dr Barrand, who now works at the University of Birmingham, says, "We found that the model was very good at reproducing the pattern and timing of the melt, and changes in melting between years. This increases confidence in the use of climate models to predict future changes to snow and ice cover in the Antarctic Peninsula."
The research will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research later this week.