Despite warmer air and oceans, there's more sea ice in Antarctica now than in the 1970s – a fact often pounced on by global warming skeptics. The latest numbers suggest the Antarctic sea ice may be heading toward a record high this year.
A University of Washington researcher says the reason may lie in the winds. A new modeling study to be published in the Journal of Climate shows that stronger polar winds lead to an increase in Antarctic sea ice, even in a warming climate.
"The overwhelming evidence is that the Southern Ocean is warming," said author Jinlun Zhang, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. "Why would sea ice be increasing? Although the rate of increase is small, it is a puzzle to scientists."
His new study shows that stronger westerly winds swirling around the South Pole can explain 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume over the past three decades.
The polar vortex that swirls around the South Pole is not just stronger than it was when satellite records began in the 1970s, it has more convergence, meaning it shoves the sea ice together to cause ridging. Stronger winds also drive ice faster, which leads to still more deformation and ridging. This creates thicker, longer-lasting ice, while exposing surrounding water and thin ice to the blistering cold winds that cause more ice growth.
In a computer simulation that includes detailed interactions between wind and sea, thick ice – more than 6 feet deep – increased by about 1 percent per year from 1979 to 2010, while the amount of thin ice stayed fairly constant. The end result is a thicker, slightly larger ice pack that lasts longer into the summer.
"You’ve got more thick ice, more ridged ice, and at the same time you will get more ice extent because the ice just survives longer," Zhang said.
When the model held the polar winds at a constant level, the sea ice increased only 20 percent as much. A previous study by Zhang showed that changes in water density could explain the remaining increase.
"People have been talking about the possible link between winds and Antarctic sea ice expansion before, but I think this is the first study that confirms this link through a model experiment," commented Axel Schweiger, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Lab. "This is another process by which dynamic changes in the atmosphere can make changes in sea ice that are not necessarily expected."
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Still unknown is why the southern winds have been getting stronger. Some scientists have theorized that it could be related to global warming, or to the ozone depletion in the Southern Hemisphere, or just to natural cycles of variability.
Differences between the two poles could explain why they are not behaving in the same way. Surface air warming in the Arctic appears to be greater and more uniform, Zhang said. Another difference is that northern water is in a fairly protected basin, while the Antarctic sea ice floats in open oceans where it expands freely in winter and melts almost completely in summer.
The sea ice uptick in Antarctica is small compared with the amount being lost in the Arctic, meaning there is an overall decrease in sea ice worldwide.
Many of the global climate models have been unable to explain the observed increase in Antarctic sea ice. Researchers have been working to improve models to better reproduce the observed increase in sea ice there and predict what the future may bring.
Eventually, Zhang anticipates that if warmer temperatures come to dominate they will resolve the apparent contradiction.
"If the warming continues, at some point the trend will reverse," Zhang said.
For more information, contact Zhang at 206-543-5569 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Hickey | Newswise
Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere
27.03.2017 | CAGE - Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment
Weather extremes: Humans likely influence giant airstreams
27.03.2017 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences