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Study: Warm Sea Water, 'Change In Ocean Circulation' Is Melting Antarctic Glaciers

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GOTHENBERG, Sweden -- The ice sheet in West Antarctica is melting faster than expected. New observations published by oceanographers from the University of Gothenburg and the US may improve our ability to predict future changes in ice sheet mass. The study was recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A reduction of the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland will affect the water levels of the world's oceans.

It is therefore problematic that we currently have insufficient knowledge about the ocean circulation near large glaciers in West Antarctica. This means that researchers cannot predict how water levels will change in the future with any large degree of certainty.

"There is a clear reduction in the ice mass in West Antarctica, especially around the glaciers leading into the Amundsen Sea," says researcher Lars Arneborg from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.

Together with his research colleagues Anna Wåhlin, Göran Björk and Bengt Liljebladh, he has studied the ocean circulation in the Amundsen Sea.

One reason why West Antarctica is particularly sensitive is that the majority of the ice rests on areas that are below sea level. Warm sea water penetrates beneath the ice, causing increased melting from underneath.

"It is therefore probably a change in the ocean circulation in the Amundsen Sea that has caused this increased melting," continues Arneborg.

Until now, researchers have been referred to studies that use high-resolution computer models.

"But there have been very few oceanographic measurements from the Amundsen Sea to confirm or contradict the results from the computer models. Nor has there been any winter data. Sea ice and icebergs have made it impossible to get there in the winter, and it isn't easy to have instruments in place all year round."

However, since 2010 the researchers from Gothenburg have managed to have instruments positioned in the Amundsen Sea, enabling them to measure the inward flow of warm sea water towards the glaciers.

The observations show that the warm sea water flows towards the glaciers in a more or less constand current all year round, in contrast to the model results which suggested a strong seasonal cycle.

"This shows just how important observations are for investigating whether the models we use describe something that resembles reality. Warm ocean currents have caused much more melting than any model has predicted, both in West Antarctica and around Greenland.

The researchers want more and longer time series of oceanographic observations in order to improve the models and achieve a better understanding.

"Only then will we be able to say something about how the ice masses of the Antarctic and Greenland will change in the future."

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

6 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

What the scientific community has failed to realize, is that over 90 percent of the oceans have a predominant downwards direction of conduction. It is this downwards direction of conduction that is the key stablizing factor for the planetary ice. This conduction factor is most vulnerable within the planets colder regions, because there the indirect sunlight warms the surface waters the least, which causes the surface water temperature to be within a few degrees of the oceans mid to upper DOW. This fragile condition is being bridged by humanities massive aquatic thermal contribution, which has accumulated, due to the fact that the oceans have this downwards direction of conduction. Experiments clearly show that when there is the presence of a downwards direction of conduction, ice is very stable. But just as suddenly as you neutralize that conduction value, ice will begin rapidly declining. And do so at rates over ten times the CO2 related predictions. Humanity needs to start addressing it's massive direct aquatic thermal contribution, and start compensating.
   comment# 1   - Randall DeWitt · La Center, USA · Dec 7, 2012 @ 8:22am

It is also feared that the extraction of oil from under the sea floor, might be adding to aquatic warming, by increasing the normal rate in which thermal energy is being transferred from the hotter planet surface into the colder ocean waters. The oil industry has yet to be required to insure that this isn't happening. Experiments clearly show that thermal energy transfers much slower through heavy oil than it does through water. Might this extraction of oil from under the oceans, be the end of the planetary ice, and the downfall of humanity.
   comment# 2   - Randall DeWitt · La Center, USA · Dec 7, 2012 @ 8:30am

There is evidence that the Permian extinction was due to global warming. 1000 years of a 1000 kilometers of volcanoes through coal and sulfur rock formations in Siberia produced run away global warming. 85-90% of life in the ocean died and 80-85% of life on land died. Anaerobic non-oxygen using deep ocean bacteria began growing on the ocean surface putting out toxic sulfur gas which produced a poisonous atmosphere. BP announced during their Gulf Gusher that the deep ocean bacteria were eating up the petroleum. A big multi-University study of the plastic pellets in the Atlantic a couple of years ago comparing their study of 10 years before found the same amount of plastic pellets in the Atlantic despite much more plastic in the Atlantic. They found deep ocean bacteria growing on the plastic pellets at the ocean surface. So at a lower level of CO2 than the Permian Extinction the atmosphere will go toxic on a hot world.
   comment# 3   - Kenneth Elder · Austin Texas, USA · Dec 8, 2012 @ 8:59am

Kenneth, what in the heck are you talking about? Please read your posts before you post them.
   comment# 4   - Hugh G. Rection · La Center, USA · Dec 10, 2012 @ 1:55am

IF CO2 were to be traped under at the sea floor,enough water psi on top of the CO2 could force the CO2 through newly just created fractures that may run to inland beach heads. Transplant algea to fight carbon dioxide
   comment# 5   - Marvin · USA · Dec 29, 2012 @ 6:40pm

Global warming,could be also created by high frenqcey's from cell phone use,agetating air molicules creating friction and heat in a microwave type affect.
   comment# 6   - Marvin · USA · Dec 29, 2012 @ 6:55pm
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