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Antarctic ice sheet melt more concerning than previously thought

Recent research points to a chain reaction that would have far reaching impacts
** FILE ** A Nov. 9, 2007 file photo shows melting icebergs in Antarctica.  Environment...
** FILE ** A Nov. 9, 2007 file photo shows melting icebergs in Antarctica. Environment ministers and other representatives of more than a dozen nations arrived at a remote Norwegian research station in Antarctica Monday Feb. 23, 2009, to learn more about the danger the continent's melting ice might pose to the planet. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia/file)(Roberto Candia | AP)
Published: May. 25, 2021 at 12:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 12:19 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Recent data gathered by a European research team has shown the Antarctic ice sheet is more unstable than previously thought. The team is composed of scientists from the U.K. Met office, Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Stockholm universities, the Norwegian Research Center and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. The data also suggest the ice sheet has come close to collapse in the past and it highlights the potential chain reaction caused by the receding ice sheet. Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, lead author of the research, explains how too much ice melt will create a continuous loop that could lead to the ice sheet’s demise.

When an ice sheet melts, the newly exposed ground beneath is less reflective, and local temperatures become warmer. This can dramatically change weather patterns. With a big ice sheet on the continent like we have today, Antarctic winds usually blow from the continent out to the sea. However, if the continent warms this could be reversed, with the winds blowing from the cooler sea to the warmer land – just as we see with monsoons around the world. That would bring extra rainfall to the Antarctic continent, causing more freshwater to run into the sea

Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, of the Met Office, the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter and the lead author of the research

The difference in densities of freshwater and saltwater will also cause a layering effect, keeping the warmer freshwater near the surface and in contact with the remaining ice. This contact will increase the melt rate of the ice sheet and the layer of warm freshwater will grow, gradually breaking the connection between deep ocean currents and surface level sea temperatures.

Ocean currents, be it deep or surface level, are critical cogs in the global heat transfer machine. They help control the temperature of the atmosphere and the sea. The severing of the circulation will lead to rapid temperature change across the earth.

In this Jan. 26, 2015 photo, Chilean biochemist Jenny Blamey, far right, walks with a member of...
In this Jan. 26, 2015 photo, Chilean biochemist Jenny Blamey, far right, walks with a member of her team in search of extreme organisms in Punta Hanna on Livingston Island, part of Antarctica's South Shetland Island archipelago. Deep below the ice is a cold and barren world that by all indications should be completely void of life. But recently, scientists researching melting ice discovered fish and shrimp-like creatures. And in areas that haven't been exposed to sunlight for millions of years, scientists found a surprise: the DNA of a microscopic creature that looks like a combination of a bear, manatee and centipede. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)(Natacha Pisarenko | AP)

Previous theories regarding Antarctic ice sheet melt have focused on the volume of water lost to melt. This latest research suggests that fluctuations in surface area have more impact on deep sea temperature changes.

While the Antarctic ice sheet may not have a direct impact on ENC, the rise in sea level that will result from a potential collapse would put a large portion of the East looking at much higher water levels. This would also exacerbate flooding throughout the area during heavy rain events. And if the transfer of heat via ocean currents is altered, our temperature swings will become even more extreme.

For further information on the research, follow this link.

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