Antarctica summer ice melt greatest for 1000 years

By Stewart_Campbell / 16 April 2013

Antarctica summer ice melt greatest for 1000 years

At a time when those of us in more northerly latitudes are longing for the spring thaw, it is sobering to learn that summer ice melt in the Antarctic Peninsula is at its highest level for 1,000 years.

Yesterday Australian and British researchers added new evidence of the impact of global warming on sensitive Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves.

Researchers from the Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey found data taken from an ice core also shows the summer ice melt has been 10 times more intense over the past 50 years compared with 600 years ago. They drilled a 364-metre deep ice core on James Ross Island, in the Antarctic Peninsula, to measure historical temperatures and compare them with summer ice melt levels in the area. They found that, while the temperatures have gradually increased by 1.6 degrees Celsius over 600 years, the rate of ice melting has been most intense over the past 50 years.

This suggests that ice melt can increase dramatically once temperatures hit a tipping point. Lead researcher Nerilie Abram stated “Once your climate is at that level where it is starting to go above zero degrees, the amount of melt that will happen is very sensitive to any further increase in temperature you may have”.

The researchers concluded that climate and the environment is changing in the Antarctic Peninsula and the area is now particularly sensitive to rapid increases in melting and ice loss with only small increases in mean temperature.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey have also said the stronger ice melts are likely responsible for faster glacier ice loss and some of the dramatic collapses from the Antarctic ice shelf over the past 50 years.

Their research was published in the Nature Geoscience journal.

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