Antarctica’s ice melt is accelerating, and research says an overlooked coastal current is to blame

A new study suggests that Antarctica’s ice shelves may be melting faster than previously thought, causing sea levels to rise at a faster rate and accelerating the dangers of climate change.

The study, published in the journal “Science Advances” on August 12, was conducted by researchers at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is based on a model that accounts for a narrow ocean current, which runs along the Antarctic coast.

The stream’s flow patterns show how fresh water, which has melted from ice shelves, can trap warm, dense ocean water at the base of the ice, intensifying the heat and thus causing it to melt. more ice.

“If this mechanism we’ve been studying is active in the real world, it may mean that ice shelf melt rates are 20 to 40 percent higher than predictions in global climate models, which typically don’t.” they can simulate these strong currents near the Antarctic coast,” said Andy Thompson, one of the researchers and a professor of environmental science and engineering, at a Caltech Press release.

According to the statement, “Ice shelves are outcrops of the Antarctic ice sheet, found where ice protrudes from the land and floats on the ocean.”

Several hundred meters thick, the shelves offer a protective buffer for continental ice, preventing the entire ice sheet from flowing into the ocean.

“Warming of the atmosphere and warming of the oceans caused by climate change are increasing the rate at which these ice shelves are melting,” the press release says, which “threatens their ability to stem the flow of ice.” the ice sheet”.

The study was led by lead research scientist Mar Flexas, who said his climate model evaluated a current often overlooked by other researchers: the Antarctic Coastal Current, which runs counterclockwise around the entire continent. Antarctic, and is often considered too small to provide relevant data.

“Large global climate models do not include this coastal current because it is very narrow, only about 20 kilometers wide, while most climate models only capture currents 100 kilometers wide or more,” Flexas said in the statement. “So there’s a chance those models might not represent future melting rates very accurately.”

Rising meltwater may escalate melting on West Antarctic ice shelves thousands of kilometers from the peninsula, the research suggests.

The statement says that “this remote warming mechanism may be part of the reason why volume loss from West Antarctic ice shelves has accelerated in recent decades.”

“There are aspects of the climate system that we are still discovering,” Thompson said in the statement. “As we advance our ability to model interactions between the ocean, ice shelves, and the atmosphere, we can make more accurate predictions with better constraints on uncertainty. We may need to revise some of the sea level predictions. grow in the next decades or century, that is the work that we will do in the future”.

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