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Glaciers Retreat on the Western Antarctic Peninsula Due to Ocean Warming

Jul 15, 2016 09:49 AM EDT
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A recent study revealed that increasing ocean temperatures are causing glaciers to retreat on the western Antarctic Peninsula, which is considered to be one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise.

"The glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are changing rapidly - almost all of the Peninsula's glaciers have retreated since the 1940s. We have known the region is a climate warming hotspot for a while, but we couldn't explain what was causing the pattern of glacier change," said Professor Tavi Murray, who leads the Glaciology Research Group at Swansea University and co-author of the study, in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Science, suggests a distinct spatial correlation between the glaciers flowing to the coast of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula and the ocean temperature patterns, with glaciers in the south retreating more rapidly while those in the north are showing little changes.

For the study, researchers analyzed ocean temperature measurements around the peninsula, alongside photography and satellite data of 674 glaciers, several decades ago. Researchers observed acceleration in glacier retreat since the 1990s and by 1940s 90 percent of the 674 glaciers have retreated.

Furthermore, researchers were able to find strong pattern in the north-south gradient of increasing glacier retreat and ocean temperature. The researchers noted that the warming of the warm water at mid-depths in the southernly region in the 1990s coincide with the widespread acceleration in glacier retreat.

"These new findings demonstrate for the first time that the ocean plays a major role in controlling the stability of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula," explained Professor Mike Meredith at British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the study in a press release.

According to Professor Meredith, the heat brought by the mid-depth waters intruding onto the continental shelf and spreading towards the coast is causing the glaciers to break up and melt. These waters becomes warmer and had moved to shallower depths in the recent decades, accelerating the retreat of the glaciers.

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