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article imageNew Research Shows Antarctica Melting, Not Cooling

By Joan Firstenberg     Jan 21, 2009 in Environment
Scientists and contrarians, content with the idea that the continent of Antarctica was oddly immune to climate change, are now confronted with a new scientific study that finds Antarctica is also getting warmer, like the Earth's six other continents.
Scientists haven't really known much about Antarctica for years. And previous research had indicated that temperatures on this bottom-of-the world continent were staying the same, or actually cooling slightly.
But now a new study goes back further than the previous ones, and fills in a large gap in information with the use of satellites to find that Antarctica is actually warming, just like the Earth's six other continents.
Study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University says this doesn't seem to be a case of man-made climate change, but he points out that a smaller study out late last year did make that connection.
And Drew Shindell, a NASA scientist and another study co-author says,
"We can't pin it down, but it certainly is consistent with the influence of greenhouse gases. Some of the effects also could be natural variability."
The study revealed that Antarctica, which is about one-and-a-half times bigger than the United States — has an extremely complicated weather picture, especially since there are only a handful of monitoring stations on it.
And because the researchers had to use satellite data and mathematical formulas to fill in any missing information, it made scientists queasy about making large conclusions with such little information.
Kevin Trenberth, a climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an email.
"This looks like a pretty good analysis, but I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical. It is hard to make data where none exist."
Shindell, though, argues it was more comprehensive than past studies and matched with computer models.
What the research found is that since 1957, the yearly temperature for Antarctica has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, although it is still 50 degrees below zero. Meanwhile, West Antarctica, which is about 20 degrees warmer than the east, is now warming by twice as fast.
And study lead author Eric Steig of the University of Washington says,
"East Antarctica, long thought to be cooling, is warming slightly when yearly averages are looked at over the past 50 years",
Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria in Canada, says,
"The study has major ramifications for sea level rise. Most major sea level rise projections for the future counted on a cooling, not warming, Antarctica. (these findings) This will make sea level rise much worse."
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