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Climate study shows how melting ice is raising sea level around Antarctica

‘The interaction between air, sea and ice in these seas is central to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and global sea levels’

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A new study tracks global warming impacts around Antarctica. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Global warming is upsetting the delicate balance between Antarctic ice, air and sea, University of Southampton scientists said this week, releasing results of a study showing a rapid rise in sea level around the frozen continent.

Based on an analysis of 19 years worth of satellite data, the researcher said sea level around the coast of Antarctica has climbed 2 centimeters more than the global average, driven almost entirely by an increase in freshwater, which is less dense than saltwater. That can cause localized increases in sea level, said Craig Rye, lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Other recent studies have shown that the freshwater cap from melting ice may inhibit the upwelling of warmer water, which is potentially a factor in the recent expansion of Antarctic sea ice.

Oceanographers have also measured other dramatic changes around Antarctica, including shrinkage of a pool of very cold water at the bottom of the Southern Ocean, which is likely to affect global ocean circulation in the future. Warming in the region may also speed invasions by non-native species, another study concluded.

The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and the thinning of floating ice shelves has contributed an excess of around 350 gigatonnes of freshwater to the surrounding ocean. This has led to a reduction in the salinity of the surrounding oceans that has been corroborated by ship-based studies of the water.

In addition to satellite observations, the researchers also conducted computer simulations of the effect of melting glaciers on the Antarctic Ocean. The results of the simulation closely mirrored the real-world picture presented by the satellite data.

“The computer model supports our theory that the sea-level rise we see in our satellite data is almost entirely caused by freshening (a reduction in the salinity of the water) from the melting of the ice sheet and its fringing ice shelves,” Rye said.

“The interaction between air, sea and ice in these seas is central to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and global sea levels, as well as other environmental processes, such as the generation of Antarctic bottom water, which cools and ventilates much of the global ocean abyss.”

The research was carried out in close collaboration with researchers at the National Oceanography Centre and the British Antarctic Survey.

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