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Surprising Science

The New Hot “Warm” Spot: West Antarctica

A newly published paper reveals that the rate at which temperatures are rising was greatly underestimated, and the results parallel those recently found in Greenland and other northern polar regions.

What’s the Latest Development?

Ohio State University researchers reported in last week’s Nature Geosciences that the western Antarctic ice sheet is warming up at a rate that’s twice as high as previously thought, making it one of the fastest-warming areas on Earth. Since 1958, the average temperature at Byrd Station, an outpost 700 miles from the South Pole, has jumped by 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which raises worries about destabilization of the ice sheet through surface melting. Such melting was seen in dramatic fashion in Greenland and other parts of the Canadian Arctic earlier this year. 

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s long been known that the Antarctic Peninsula is warming quickly, but until now the rest of Antarctica was thought to be relatively stable. However, some observational data collected over the last 40 years was missing or incorrect due to mechanical error. The researchers used computer models to fill in the gaps, and the results, according to polar climate scientist David Schneider, indicate that the western Antarctic “is really one of the regions we need to be watching with regard to climate change…Now that we have the [complete] station record, that will give us an idea of warming over Antarctica as a whole.”

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