Coldest part of Antarctica more vulnerable to climate change than thought
Researchers from KU Leuven are part of a team that has determined that the East Antarctic ice sheet is in fact melting
Lake has formed
Because East Antarctica is so isolated, little is known about the effects of climate change there. Through field work, satellite data and a climate model, the researchers found that ice shelves in a certain area of East Antarctica are melting faster than scientists had assumed.
That’s because a strong wind is transporting warm, dry air to the area and blowing away the snow. This darkens the surface, which then absorbs more of the sun’s heat.
The result is a local warmer microclimate with a few “hotspots”. The ice shelf is floating in the ocean, so melting does not immediately contribute to a rise in sea levels.
However, the ice shelves around Antarctica are extremely important for ice sheet stability because they hold back the land ice. If the ice shelves collapse, this land ice will end up in the ocean and cause sea levels to rise more quickly.
Part of the research focused on a mysterious crater on the King Boudewijn ice shelf, first discovered two years ago. There were theories that it might have been caused by a meteorite impact, but it turned out to be a collapsed lake, with a hole in the ice that allows water to flow into the ocean.
The researchers discoveries are featured on the cover of this week’s Nature science journal.
Photo: Jason Auch/Wikimedia Commons
Princess Elisabeth station in Antarctica
station wind turbines
station altitude in meters
location from the coast in kilometres