Study eyes role of plankton in cloud formation

Southern Ocean research shows how plankton emissions brighten clouds

Clouds over Antarctica. @bberwyn photo.

Clouds over Antarctica. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Swarms of tiny plankton may play a bigger role in cloud formation than previously realized, scientists said after studying the Southern Ocean.

The new research shows that plankton produce airborne gases and organic matter to seed cloud droplets, which lead to brighter clouds that reflect more sunlight. Continue reading

Climate change decimating key plant species on Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island cushion plants

Cushion plants on Macquarie Island are dying so fast that scientists are growing them in irrigated tubes to preserve them until they can collect large quantities of seed. Photo courtesy Barend (Barry) Becker, Australian Antarctic Division.

‘Dieback of the cushion plants and mosses is rapid, progressive and widespread …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dramatic climate-driven ecosystem changes on Macquarie Island (about a third of the way between New Zealand and Antarctica) may foreshadow changes coming to Colorado’s alpine zone.

Researchers with the Australian Antarctic Division say old-growth cushion plants and mosses on the sub-Antarctic are drying out, to the detriment of other species that rely on the plants for habitat.

Even though the tiny island is on the opposite side of the world, the plants are similar to cushion plants in the Rocky Mountains that are an important part of the tundra ecosystem in places like Rocky Mountain National Park. Continue reading

Climate: Is this the Antarctic tipping point?

Study shows widespread, simultaneous ice shelf melting

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Satellite data shows sudden shift in ice shelf dynamics along the southern Antarctic Peninsula. @berwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with studies showing dramatic changes in individual ice shelves in Antarctica, new research shows widespread changes in the region since 2009. Up until then, the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change.

But suddenly, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse, measuring some 750km in length, suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of 60 cubic kilometers, or about 55 trillion liters of water, each year. This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of waning. Continue reading

NASA study tracks crumbling Antarctic ice shelf

Scientists say disintegration of Larsen B remnant will speed glaciers, raise sea level

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 Icebergs floating along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — There’s more meltdown news from Antarctica. Despite a trend of expanding sea ice in the past few years, the all-important coastal ice shelves, which regulate the flow of continental ice to the sea, are in trouble.

Last week, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey said they measured incredibly fast thinning of the Larsen C Ice Shelf, warning that the massive sheet of floating ice could crumble suddenly and without much warning. Those findings reflect the more widespread trend of ice shelf thinning around the continent, tracked in another comprehensive NASA-led study.

And in the same region, along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, a new NASA study suggests that remnants of the previously collapsed Larsen B Ice Shelf probably won’t last much longer. Continue reading

Study helps pinpoint Antarctic ice-shelf thinning

Larsen C Ice Shelf has dwindled by 4 meters in 15 years

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Melting ice shelves in Antarctica will speed the rate of sea level rise. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — One of Antarctica’s giant ice shelves has thinned by more than 12 feet in the past 15 years and could collapse within the next 100 years — or possibly sooner and without much warning, according to scientists with the British Antarctic Survey.

The new study was focused on trying to determine why the Larsen C Ice Shelf is melting away. The ice shelf is along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest warming regions on Earth, with a temperature rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius during the last 50 years. Continue reading

Morning photo: What next for Antarctica?

Big changes ahead for the frozen continent


FRISCO —I often write about the environmental changes expected in Antarctica as the world heats up under its man-made blanket of heat-trapping greenhouse gases because those changes will have huge implications for the rest of the planet. It’s not just the melting ice and rising sea level. When — and to be clear, it’s when, not if — the big meltdown begins, it will affect ocean currents worldwide and weather patterns in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Hard to say at this point what the consequences will be for places like Australia and South America. Click this link to read about how the Antarctic affects global climate.

But Antarctica is so vast, so distant and so unimaginably different from the rest of the planet that it’s sometimes hard to get your head around it without seeing it for yourself. Enjoy the gallery and check our archive of Antarctica environment stories to learn more.

Satellite data helps pinpoint Antarctic ice loss

Study says 92 billion tons of ice melting each year

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The ice sheets of West Antarctica are losing about 240 billion tons of ice each year, and the rate of loss has doubled in the past 10 years. @bberwyn photo.

Princeton University researchers "weighed" Antarctica's ice sheet using gravitational satellite data and found that from 2003 to 2014, the ice sheet lost 92 billion tons of ice per year. Image by Christopher Harig, Department of Geosciences, Princeton.

Princeton University researchers “weighed” Antarctica’s ice sheet using gravitational satellite data and found that from 2003 to 2014, the ice sheet lost 92 billion tons of ice per year. Image by Christopher Harig, Department of Geosciences, Princeton.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Sparse data make it tough to track continental-scale climatic changes across the vast reaches of Antarctica. But a new study that analyzed gravitational readings from satellites is helping scientists understand what’s happening to the region’s massive ice fields, and in a new study, they say that, overall, the southern continent’s ice cap is melting ever faster.

The study covers a 10-year span, from 2003 to 2014, when an average of 92 billion tons of ice melted away into the sea each year, with obvious implications for sea level rise. Reporting in the  journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the Princeton researchers said that, if all that ice were piled on Manhattan it would be more than a mile high, five times the height of the Empire State Building. Continue reading

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