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Climate: Scientists studying old satellite photos to understand current Antarctic sea ice trends

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Icebergs in the Antarctic Sound. bberwyn photo.

Warm October weather leads to rapid melting in Ross Sea region

Staff Report

FRISCO — Persistent warm winds from the north have eaten away at the record sea ice extent around Antarctica the past few weeks.

After reaching a new record in September, the ice extent is now back to the levels of about a year ago, according to the National Snow and Ice Data center’s monthly update.

Along Antarctica’s Pacific coast, including around the Ross Ice Shelf and northern West Antarctic Ice Sheet, air temperatures in October ran 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Temperatures were also warmer than average in the eastern Weddell Sea south of Africa. Continue reading

Russia, China block Antarctica conservation plans

Proposals for vast marine preserves fail for the fourth time

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Plans to protect the Antarctic environment are still on hold. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Russia and China have once again showed their unwillingness to participate in global efforts to protect the environment in Antarctica by blocking a plan to create new marine reserves off the shore of eastern Antarctica and in the Ross Sea.

Both countries are more interested in exploiting natural resources in the region than in establishing a collaborative framework for sustainable management of the fish and krill. Russia voted for the fourth time to block the proposal for new marine protected areas, while China opposed the plans for the first time. Continue reading

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Ozone hole about the same size as last year

A depiction of the ozone hole over Antarctica, courtesy NOAA.

A depiction of the ozone hole over Antarctica, courtesy NOAA.

Ozone-depleting chemicals decreasing in atmosphere, but weather plays big role in year-to-year variability

Staff Report

FRISCO — The ozone hole over Antarctica didn’t change much from last year, scientists said this week, pointing to weather and climate variability as key factors in year-to-year variability.

The single-day maximum area was similar to that in 2013, which reached 9.3 million square miles. The largest single-day ozone hole ever recorded by satellite was 11.5 million square miles) on Sept. 9, 2000. Overall, the 2014 ozone hole is smaller than the large holes of the 1998–2006 period, and is comparable to 2010, 2012, and 2013. Continue reading

Climate: New ice core record shows three distinct CO2 pulses about 10,000 years ago, as ice age ended

‘The natural carbon cycle can change a lot faster than we thought’

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How will Earth’s climate respond to the current rise in CO2?

Staff Report

FRISCO — One of the most detailed ice cores samples ever taken from Antarctica shows three sharp spikes of atmospheric carbon dioxide ushering in the end of the ice age about 10,000 years ago.

Based on the findings, the researchers said that the increase in atmospheric CO2 from the peak of the last ice age to complete deglaciation was about 80 parts per million, taking place over 10,000 years, with about half that increase occurring in just a few centuries.

They’re not sure what caused the sudden surges, but suspect it was a combination of factors, including ocean circulation, changing wind patterns, and terrestrial processes. But understanding the mechanisms that caused the changes would help determine what take the Earth in and out of ice age regimes. Continue reading

Antarctica’s ice-free fringe needs more protection

Invasive species a huge threat to sparse ecosystems, scientists report

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Tourists on Dundee Island hike past birds and pinnipeds. bberwyn photo

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Tourists hiking on Deception Island. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — The tiny ice-free fringes of Antarctica are especially prone to ecosystem disruption, including invasive species, an Australian science team warned earlier this year after taking a close look at how human use is concentrated in those slivers of dry land.

Antarctica has over 40,000 visitors a year, and more and more research facilities are being built in the continent’s tiny ice-free area. Most of the Antarctic wildlife and plants live in the ice-free areas – and this is also where people most visit.

Most tour operators in Antarctica follow strict guidelines set to protect ecosystems, including at least basic decontamination procedures, but those measures might not be enough, especially as global warming makes ice-free zones more susceptible to invasive species. Continue reading

Climate: Southern Ocean layering could lead to big Antarctica meltdown along with surge in sea level rise

‘The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,000 years ago’

The ice fields of Antarctica

The ice fields of Antarctica. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A stratification of the ocean around Antarctica could lead to more rapid melting of ice sheets, triggering a sudden surge in sea level rise. That last time that happened was well before the global warming era, about 14,000 years ago, but scientists are now seeing signs of a similar pattern.

A new study found that in the past, when ocean temperatures around Antarctica became more layered, with a warm layer of water below a cold surface layer,  ice sheets and glaciers melted much faster than when the cool and warm layers mixed more easily. This defined layering of temperatures is exactly what is happening now around the Antarctic.

“The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land-based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface,” said ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Prof Matthew England, an author of the paper, published in Nature Communications.

Continue reading

Study shows why Penguins need more protection

‘If we don’t worry about the imminent threats now, it’s probably not worth worrying about the medium-term future’

Gentoo penguins and the S/V Professor Molchanov at sea.

Gentoo penguins and the S/V Professor Molchanov. bberwyn photo.

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A penguin dives in and out of the icy waters near the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The world’s penguins could use a little help, a team of  leading conservation biologists said last month, announcing results of a study that systematically assessed global risks to the southern hemisphere sea birds.

While global warming remains a long-term threat, other impacts, primarily related to human activities, are a more clear and present danger, the scientists said, advocating for a more widespread network of marine protected areas to buffer penguins from pollution, tourism and fishing.

“We need to address some of these issues before we think about resilience to climate change,” said Dr. Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology with the British Antarctic Survey. “If we don’t worry about the imminent threats now, it’s probably not worth worrying about the medium-term future,” Trathan said, explaining that penguins living and breeding in southern Africa and South America face the highest risks.

“If you want to create resilient populations, deal with some of the immediate threats, and where the threats are most evident is where penguins inhabit areas close to mankind,” he said. Continue reading

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