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Climate: Shifting winds drive Antarctic sea ice changes

New study pinpoints regional growth and decline of Antarctic sea ice

Researchers are starting to understand how shifting wind patterns are driving changes in Antarctic sea ice extent. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After compiling more than 5 million individual daily ice motion measurements of sea ice motion around Antarctica, scientists from the U.S. and U.K. say they’re sure that the recent increases in Antarctic sea ice are linked to changing wind patterns in the region.

Essentially, the circumpolar winds are strengthening around Antarctica, said Dr. Ron Kwok, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Why those winds are intensifying, and whether it’s linked with a warming atmosphere remains as a huge question, Kwok said. View a mult-year animation of Antarctic sea ice changes here.

“We are basically finding evidence of change over a long time scale … That’s why it’s inportant to quantify the mechanisms,” he said. “It’s probably associated with a changing climate. The Antarctic sea ice interacts with the global climate system very differently than that of the Arctic, and these results highlight the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice coverage to changes in the strength of the winds around the continent.” Continue reading

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Climate: Antarctic research season starts with aerial surveys

NASA’s Operation IceBridge surveys Thwaites Glacier and Bellinghausen Sea

This NASA photo shows the calving front of Thwaites Ice Shelf looking at the ice below the water’s surface. Note how the water acts as a blue filter.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As Arctic sea ice melted away to a new record-low level this summer, global warming deniers tried to deflect attention from the meltdown by emphasizing the growth in Antarctic sea ice.

Of course, the increase in Antarctic sea ice is small compared to the loss of Arctic ice, and there are other hints that Antarctica is set to experience some major changes. In coming decades, entire ice shelves along the coast may crumble into the sea, potentially contributing significantly to sea level rise.

To measure those impending changes, NASA has been doing extensive aerial surveys in Antarctica with Operation IceBridge, and this year’s flying season began productively with a land ice survey of Thwaites Glacier and a sea ice flight over parts of the Bellingshausen Sea. Continue reading

Antarctica: King crab invasion?

Just slight warming in the Southern Ocean could enable king crabs to colonize new territory, with unknown consequences for existing ecoystems. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Warming ocean temps threaten could ecoystem stability

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a small shift in temperatures in the Southern Ocean could enable king crabs to spread to Antarctica’s continental shelf and threaten existing ecosystems that aren’t equipped to deal with the voracious predators.

Crabs are cold-blooded, so their body temperature is largely determined by the surrounding environment. The crabs live mostly in cold, deep-sea habitats, but experiments have shown their larvae fail to mature in water temperatures below around half a degree Celsius, even after only brief exposure. Continue reading

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