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Heat in the Tasman sea is melting the Antarctic Peninsula

Rapid climate changes across the Arctic and Antarctic regions are causing serious concerns over sea level rise, as glaciers and sea ice vanish at unprecedented rates. During the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula was one of the fastest warming places on Earth. 

The primary cause of global is burning fossil fuels, which release heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Ocean currents, atmospheric variations, and wind patterns also play a major role in driving up temperatures. 

In a new study from the Research Organization of Information and Systems, researchers set out to identify which specific climate factors are responsible for the alarming speed of ice retreat observed on the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The impacts of climate variabilities over the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere on this Antarctic warming have yet to be quantified,” explained study lead author Dr. Kazutoshi Sato.

To investigate, his team analyzed climate changes in the Tasman Sea and the Southern Ocean to determine whether these changes could be linked to temperature variations in the Antarctic Peninsula.

The study was focused on temperature data from six stations across the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as wind and cyclone patterns over the Tasman sea and the Southern Ocean from 1979 to 2019.

The experts discovered that heating in the Tasman Sea modifies the wind patterns over the Southern Ocean and transfers heat to the Antarctic Peninsula through Rossby waves. This effect takes place even without unusual heating in the tropics, and is more prominent in the winter months when cyclones are more active. 

“We have shown that warm winter episodes in the Tasman Sea influence warm temperature anomalies over key regions of West Antarctica, including the Antarctic Peninsula, through a poleward shift of South Pacific cyclone tracks,” explained Dr. Sato.

According to study co-author Dr. Jun Inoue, identifying the factors that are responsible for melting the Antarctic ice sheet will help scientists, policymakers, and administrations devise measures for people who will be most affected by the rising sea levels.

The researchers noted that their findings can also aid the future forecast of ice sheet melting in Antarctica and consequent global sea level rise.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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