Report: Antarctic summer ice melt intensified ten-fold in last 50 years

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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New research using a 1,000-year-old ice core shows that summer ice melting in Antarctic Peninsula has increased ten-fold, with most of this occurring in the last half-century.

Researchers studied an ice core from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula that was over 1,000 feet long to see how melting periods have changed over the past 1,000 years. The ice core acts like the rings of a tree, as the core’s layers indicate periods of melting and freezing. This gives scientists an in-depth look into the history of the area being examined.

“We found that the coolest conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and the lowest amount of summer melt occurred around 600 years ago,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Nerilie Abram of The Australian National University and British Antarctic Survey. “At that time temperatures were around 1.6°C lower than those recorded in the late 20th Century and the amount of annual snowfall that melted and refroze was about 0.5%. Today, we see almost ten times as much (5%) of the annual snowfall melting each year.”

“Summer melting at the ice core site today is now at a level that is higher than at any other time over the last 1000 years,” Abram added. “And whilst temperatures at this site increased gradually in phases over many hundreds of years, most of the intensification of melting has happened since the mid-20th century.”

The research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that ice melting on the Antarctic Peninsula has been particularly sensitive to global warming during the 20th Century.

“What that means is that the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed to a level where even small increases in temperature can now lead to a big increase in summer ice melt,” Abram said.

However, a Dutch study found that global warming has helped Antarctic sea ice significantly expand since 1985 and that global warming could insulate the southern hemisphere from rising temperatures.

The study says that “cool freshwater from melt beneath the Antarctic ice shelves has insulated offshore sea ice from the warming ocean beneath,” according to the Herald Sun.

“Against the background of global climate warming, the expansion of Antarctic sea ice is an exceptional feature, which seems to be associated with decreasing sea surface temperatures in the Southern Ocean,” according to the study.

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