Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Recent Climate, Glacier Changes in Antarctica at the 'Upper Bound' of Normal

15.04.2013
In the last few decades, glaciers at the edge of the icy continent of Antarctica have been thinning, and research has shown the rate of thinning has accelerated and contributed significantly to sea level rise.

New ice core research suggests that, while the changes are dramatic, they cannot be attributed with confidence to human-caused global warming, said Eric Steig, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences.

Previous work by Steig has shown that rapid thinning of Antarctic glaciers was accompanied by rapid warming and changes in atmospheric circulation near the coast. His research with Qinghua Ding, a UW research associate, showed that the majority of Antarctic warming came during the 1990s in response to El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Their new research suggests the '90s were not greatly different from some other decades – such as the 1830s and 1940s – that also showed marked temperature spikes.

"If we could look back at this region of Antarctica in the 1940s and 1830s, we would find that the regional climate would look a lot like it does today, and I think we also would find the glaciers retreating much as they are today," said Steig, lead author of a paper on the findings published online April 14 in Nature Geoscience.

The researchers' results are based on their analysis of a new ice core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide that goes back 2,000 years, along with a number of other ice core records going back about 200 years. They found that during that time there were several decades that exhibited similar climate patterns as the 1990s.

The most prominent of these in the last 200 years – the 1940s and the 1830s – were also periods of unusual El Niño activity like the 1990s. The implication, Steig said, is that rapid ice loss from Antarctica observed in the last few decades, particularly the '90s, "may not be all that unusual."

The same is not true for the Antarctic Peninsula, the part of the continent closer to South America, where rapid ice loss has been even more dramatic and where the changes are almost certainly a result of human-caused warming, Steig said.

But in the area where the new research was focused, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, it is more difficult to detect the evidence of human-caused climate change. While changes in recent decades have been unusual and at the "upper bound of normal," Steig said, they cannot be considered exceptional.

"The magnitude of unforced natural variability is very big in this area," Steig said, "and that actually prevents us from answering the questions, 'Is what we have been observing exceptional? Is this going to continue?'"

He said what happens to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the next few decades will depend greatly on what happens in the tropics.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is made up of layers of ice, greatly compressed, that correspond with a given year's precipitation. Similar to tree rings, evidence preserved in each layer of ice can provide climate information for a specific time in the past at the site where the ice core was taken.

In this case, the researchers detected elevated levels of the isotope oxygen 18 in comparison with the more commonly found oxygen 16. Higher levels of oxygen 18 generally indicate higher air temperatures.

Levels of oxygen 18 in ice core samples from the 1990s were more elevated than for any other time in the last 200 years, but were very similar to levels reached during some earlier decades.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

For more information, contact Steig at 206-685-3715, 206-543-6327 or steig@uw.edu.

An image of a section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide core is available from vinces@uw.edu.

Co-authors are Qinghua Ding, Marcell Küttel, Peter Neff, Ailie Gallant, Spruce Schoenemann, Bradley Markle, Tyler Fudge, Andrew Schauer and Rebecca Teel of the University of Washington; James White and Bruce Vaughn of the University of Colorado; Summer Rupper, Landon Burgener and Jessica Williams of Brigham Young University; Thomas Neumann of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; Paul Mayewski, Daniel Dixon and Elena Korotkikh of the University of Maine; Kendrick Taylor of Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nev.; Georg Hoffmann of the Centre d'Etudes de Saclay in France and Utrecht University in The Netherlands; and David Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.

Vince Stricherz | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht World’s oldest known oxygen oasis discovered
18.01.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

nachricht A close-up look at an uncommon underwater eruption
11.01.2018 | Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Let the good tubes roll

19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>