Antarctic Peninsula warming is expected to continue

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COLUMBUS, Oh. (WCMH) — A detailed investigation of climate trends in the Antarctic Peninsula predicts more warming in the next 25 years, which could raise global sea levels.

“We study how and why changes are happening around Antarctica,” said study co-author David Bromwich, a researcher at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “Temperatures are going up on average, particularly in the summertime,” based on an analysis of 19 long-range global climate models.

Annual precipitation (snow and rain) could increase 5-10 percent by 2044, a reflection of warming that increases the capacity of the air to carry water vapor. “Once temperatures rise a bit, it comes down as rain. There’s more melting because of the warmer temperatures,” Bromwich said, noting that “Antarctica contains a lot of potential sea level rise.”

The Antarctic Peninsula is thought to be highly sensitive to climate change because it extends 800 miles northward from the frozen continent in the direction of South America. Warmer summers would likely cause further melting of the snow atop inland glaciers and a reduction in fresh snowfall, with greater absorption of sunlight.

The study also takes into account more subtle features missed by large-scale models, including the effects of terrain (mountains) and circulation (westerly winds) on the climate, where the mountains rise above 10,000 feet.

Higher ocean temperatures are mostly responsible for the retreating glaciers. Climate scientists are concerned that as ice shelves become less stable in warmer waters, more ice will melt along the base of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and eventually flow to the sea, raising global sea levels.

Large ice shelves — floating masses of ice — periodically calve or break off into the ocean, which allows more inland ice to reach the sea. Because the Antarctic Peninsula is warming at five times the global rate, the new study takes on even greater importance in our understanding of the global impacts of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

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