Assessing the state of Antarctica

Assessing the state of Antarctica

Since 2002, Antarctica as a whole has been losing 24 cubic miles of ice each year, with ice loss tripling after 2012 (NASA, 2018). When the Larsen C ice shelf fractured and sent a chunk of ice twice the size of Luxembourg off into the Weddell Sea, it looked to most of us like an epic representation of the speed of Antarctic melting.

Some scientists, however, were quick to put us at ease regarding this specific calving event (which wasn’t, in fact, actually that remarkable in the context of climate change).

Whilst the Arctic struggles with significant sea-ice loss, Antarctica, unfailingly steadfast and resolute by its nature, appears to be coping better.

Cassie Matias on futuretravel.today

However, to suggest that Antarctica isn’t feeling the effects of climate change would be misleading. West Antarctica is feeling the heat (literally) as warming oceans make its ice shelves increasingly unstable.

East Antarctica, however, is a slightly different story. Here, ice levels are even thought to have grown. (This fact could be linked to rising temperatures leading to an increase in air moisture and thus increased snowfall, which is then condensed into ice over time).

The discrepancy between ice loss in West Antarctica compared to East Antarctica is down to the fact that West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula are marine-based. With their beds within the Southern Ocean, the edges and under layers of ice shelves are in constant contact with the warming ocean. Meanwhile, East Antarctica mostly sits high and dry (literally) on a terrestrial base acting as a protectant.

Warming trends affecting the (marine-based) Totten and Moscow University glaciers along East Antarctica are showing, however, this section of the continent isn’t totally safe from warming oceans, either. 

The reason scientists were so quick to calm fears over Larsen C was due to the potential of it obscuring other, more worrying trends.

Antarctica has been somewhat late to the party regarding climate change. In part this is due to it sitting inside the Southern Ocean Circumpolar Current, isolating it from the rest of the planet).

Greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures around the continent are predicted to rise in the not-so-distant future. If this is a reality, sea-ice in Antarctica could decline by a third, with disastrous implications for sea-level rises. This is on top of known ocean warming already affecting the stability and ice-coverage of West Antarctica.

If predictions ring true, by the end of the century melting Antarctic sea-ice could cause ocean rising of a metre. So, whilst East Antarctica’s resilience so far might be used to suggest that the continent isn’t facing significant anthropogenic-induced change, the reality tells a different story.

Integral to keeping things under control? Keeping global temperatures down.

Till next time! Kirstie 

Cover photo by Cassie Matias on futuretravel.today

6 thoughts on “Assessing the state of Antarctica”

  • Wow. I’ll admit, I haven’t looked into the research around Antartica, I’ve just read the little bits I’ve seen floating around in news outlets (which is little to none)…and tbh from Leonardo DiCaprio’s instagram posts (ha!). I’ve never thought about the differences between East and West Antarctica…which now that I’m saying (or typing it) seems really ignorant of me. Love the post!

    • It’s the best! I hope you’ve enjoyed the series of posts. You aren’t alone! It’s easy to see why both areas can be lumped into one, big, frozen continent with little change on either sides!

  • I’ve talked about ozone hole, greenhouse effect…last year in some lectures at uni but nothing compare to this! Amazing! It’s really interesting for different fields. I love it and I think the next posts will be at least as great as this one. Great job! x

  • Like the comment above, I hadn’t given much thought to how East and West Antarctica might differ. Thank you for opening my eyes on this subject. Keeping temperatures down is key, but do you think this can reasonably happen by the time it needs to?

    • Thanks for reading! As depressing as it is, I think the possibility of getting temperatures down to where they need to be is, at this point, virtually impossible. We did a simulation in class where we had to negotiate on behalf of countries across the world to get GHG emissions down to meet the UN below 2 degrees warming figure. Even with every state cutting emissions tomorrow and investing huge amounts in afforestation, we wouldn’t make the figure. It’s a gloomy look into the future, but never a reason to not continuing to fight…

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: