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

Antarctica meltdown likely to speed up soon

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Ice sheets of the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo

Natural variability still the key driver for East Antarctica temps

Staff Report

FRISCO — A lack of widespread data from Antarctica means it’s still challenging to differentiate human-driven global warming from natural temperature variations in the region, German scientists said in a new study.

Climate researchers need to understand temperature trends in Antarctica to better predict how fast the ice will melt and raise global sea level. But the study concluded that the uncertainties in the temperature trends over Antarctica are larger than previously estimated. Continue reading

Environment: Are research stations polluting Antarctica?

Study finds that some Persistent Organic Pollutants are ‘pervasive’ in the environment around Antarctic base

The ice fields of Antarctica

The ice fields of Antarctica. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

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FRISCO — Antarctica is often described as one of the last pristine environments on Earth, but that may be changing as human activity increases.

Researchers with the Australian Antarctic Division recently said they tracked pollutants from common household sources dispersing from a research station into the surrounding environment. As a result, the scientists are rethinking how they store and dispose of materials that could be the source of pollutants. Continue reading

Global warming: Antarctic ice shelves have thinned 18 percent in the past two decades

Troubling signs of a major meltdown continue

It's not clear when the waters around Antarctica will no longer be able to support production of phytoplankton.

 Global warming is nibbling away at Antarctica’s ice sheets, which show declines of up to 18 percent in a new analysis of satellite data. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on global warming changes in Antarctica.

FRISCO — In the dry language of science, researchers this week said that some of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves have thinned by as much as 18 percent in just a couple of decades — a finding that provides “new insights on how the Antarctic ice sheet is responding to climate change.”

After analyzing 20 years of satellite data, the new NASA-supported study shows the ice volume decline is accelerating under a thickening blanket of greenhouse gases. Merging data from three overlapping missions, the study was able to show the trend over time rather than just offering a snapshot view of the ice.

“Eighteen percent over the course of 18 years is really a substantial change,” said Paolo. “Overall, we show not only the total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we see an acceleration in the last decade.” said Scripps graduate student Fernando Paolo. Continue reading

Study tracks blue whales across Southern Ocean

New data will help shape conservation efforts in the waters around Antarctica

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Australian and New Zealand researchers have tracked blue whales across thousands of miles in the Southern Ocean to help inform conservation efforts. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — As a keystone species in marine ecosystems, blue whales have a significant impact in the ocean around Antarctica, but the population dynamics of the species in the region are still a mystery as the marine mammals recover from the decimation of the whaling era.

That may change following the recent six-week Australia-New Zealand Antarctic Ecosystem Voyage voyage, as researchers tracked the world’s largest creatures across thousands of miles of ocean, detecting their songs from as far as 750 kilometers away. Continue reading

How do Antarctica snowfall rates affect sea level rise?

New ice core analysis shows less of an ‘offset’ than most models currently project

Antarctica permafrost

Increasing snowfall in Antarctica will moderate the rate of global sea level rise — but not as much as previously thought. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Detailed ice core records from Antarctica show that snowfall over the frozen continent increased about 5 percent for each degree (Celsius) of warming as Earth emerged from the last ice age.

The findings confirm that the increased snowfall will slightly offset sea level rise, as suggested by other research — but not as much as previously thought. That means that some computer models may be underestimating the amount and rate of future sea level rise if they’re based on inaccurate assumptions. Continue reading

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