Climate Change Threats to East Antarctica Worse than Previously Thought

Climate Change Threats to East Antarctica Worse than Previously Thought
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Climate change could spell significant trouble for East Antarctica’s ice sheet, a new study finds.

According to the research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, strong winds may contribute to enhanced erosion.

“There is enough frozen water sitting on top of the world’s polar continent to raise sea level by dozens of meters and redraw the world map if it melts,” Phys.org notes.

Scientists have traditionally focused more on the status of the West Antarctica ice sheet where large chunks have been melting at alarming rates. The East Antarctic ice sheet is much larger than the West, leading scientists to think it was more stable in recent years as the region has been studied extensively for clues about the pace of global warming’s damage. But East Antarctica appeared to be in good shape, even adding to its mass while the Western ice shelf has been losing significant bulk.

But recently, scientists noticed the presence of a crater located on the King Baudoin ice shelf, which shows the East’s vulnerability to erosion that could spell disaster for the world’s oceans.

“Combining climate models, satellite data and on-site measurements, [the researchers] concluded that strong winds carrying warm air were blowing away reflective snow,” reports Phys.org, “allowing the Sun’s rays to be absorbed into the darker ice rather than bounced back into space.”

With increases in global air temperatures in recent decades (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), warming oceans cause the ice shelves to melt faster than they can replenish ice and snow. And the new research says these erosion estimates may be more significant than previous assessments.

Increased erosion could lead to a significant ice shelf collapse in East Antarctica, causing catastrophic and irreversible damage to the continent. The repercussions could include rising sea levels and temperatures elsewhere on the planet, jeopardizing scores of ecosystems as well as threatening human health and safety.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is the senior editor and featured columnist on EcoSalon and sister site Organic Authority. Jill’s writing has been featured in The Village Voice, MTV, Reality Sandwich and Global Rhythm as well as the anthologies “Towards 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age” (2009, Tarcher/Penguin) and “What Do You Believe?” (2009, Outside the Box). A focus on food policy, veganism, wellness, music and world cultural expressions, Jill blends the mystical and modern as she explores what our shifting food, fashion, culture and creative landscapes will look, sound and taste like in the future. Jill spent more than a decade as a sales and marketing manager in the natural foods industry and regularly consults with and supports emerging brands and organizations in creative communication, social media and event production. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and future foodie, their daughter Imogene. Twitter @jillettinger | www.jillettinger.com.