Oceanographers call for more ocean observing in Antarctica

Jun 18, 2010

Rutgers' Oscar Schofield and five colleagues from other institutions have published in Science, calling for expanded ocean-observing in the Antarctic, particularly in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, or WAP.

This mountainous arm of the continent stretches north toward South America. In their review paper, the co-authors, who have done research in the Antarctic, often together, argue that research in this region is imperative because the WAP's is changing faster than the climate in the rest of the continent, and the Antarctic climate is changing faster than anywhere else on the planet. For a description of some of the research supporting this understanding, click here and here.

The authors' case for a greatly expanded ocean-observing capability in the peninsula is stark. They observe that eighty-seven percent of the peninsula's are in retreat, the ice season has shortened by 90 days, and perennial sea ice is no longer a feature of this environment. They also point out that these changes are accelerating.

Until recently, most oceanographic research in the Antarctic was done from government-funded ships. Ships are expensive, limited by harsh weather, and only useful during the Antarctic summer. Scientists also have been using for the past 30 years, but since the Antarctic is often cloud-covered, such data are often incomplete. Schofield and his colleagues suggest a "nested, multi-platform" approach to Antarctic research. This strategy would employ ships, satellites, drifting sensors, submersible robots, and sensors mounted on animals such as seals and whales. The authors write that such a strategy should quantify a heat budget (the sum of incoming and outgoing heat) for the atmosphere and ocean, help scientists understand how the deep ocean is interacting with shelf waters, how this flux changes with time, and how this affects regional marine climate, ice dynamics and ecology.

The authors write that the ocean surrounding Antarctica is warming and that this warming has driven the deglaciation of the peninsula. They write that the interplay between ice, atmosphere and ocean in the in the peninsula produces a positive feedback - a situation in which a system responds to changes by amplifying subsequent changes. In the case of the Western Peninsula, this means that ice, and atmosphere work to increase each other's temperature and the rate at which their temperatures increase. However, the authors report that the mechanism of this interplay is not well understood, and expanded ocean-observing systems will help scientific understanding.

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User comments : 10

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Parsec
4 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2010
I wonder how long it will take for the climate denier trolls to find this. I only hope that this call for action actually results in something happening.
Caliban
3 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2010
Let's hope so- a very close watch needs to be kept on all of these changes. Just this quick little summary of the processes ongoing are far more dire than any effects I can remember reading in articles elsewhere- for instance, 87% of glaciers in retreat? I don't think I've read that figure anywhere before.

This is bad. Very, very bad.
thermodynamics
3.9 / 5 (7) Jun 18, 2010
Parsec: I don't think it will take them long to jump on this. Let me see if I can guess what they will be saying. First, they will call the article useless. Then they will point out that it is a waste of taxpayer money. They will then point out that it is all a scam. Then they will point out that they already know what is happening (we are embarking on global cooling) and point us to a denier web site that misinterprets old data. Let's see how close I am.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2010
I'm sorry break into your Mutual Admiration Society, but the article is BS.

"the ice season has shortened by 90 days" -- how is that possible when antarctic sea ice cover is increasing?

http://nsidc.org/...ries.png

Or you imply that nsidc.org is a "denier" site?

Second, if something is warming faster than the rest of the world, studying it contributes nothing to the alleged global cause. They complain about ships being expensive but fail to mention Argo system that has being created for exact same reason.

PinkElephant
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2010
@thermodynamics,

You pretty much nailed it. :D

@TegiriNenashi,
how is that possible when antarctic sea ice cover is increasing?
It increases every year, then it decreases every year. We refer to this unusual phenomenon as "the change of seasons".
if something is warming faster than the rest of the world, studying it contributes nothing to the alleged global cause
It might contribute something to our understanding of the IMPACTS of the global cause. The integrity of Antarctic ice sheets is pretty important, e.g. with respect to global sea levels. Antarctic climate is important for the entire Southern Ocean, all lands bordering it, and quite probably beyond.
fail to mention Argo system that has being created for exact same reason
The location of the Argo floats isn't controllable. And they'd have trouble surfacing through sea ice...
PinkElephant
4 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2010
@Caliban,
87% of glaciers in retreat? I don't think I've read that figure anywhere before.
Keep in mind this only applies to the peninsula, vs. the entire continent.

Of course, this makes sense since global warming reaches Antarctica through the heat stored into oceans, rather than through the stunted and ineffectual greenhouse effect over the continent (and warm air is blocked from reaching the continent by the south polar vortex.) So a warmer ocean will first and foremost affect the parts of the continent that stick out -- like the WAP.

Still, the retreating glaciers of the peninsula are probably a preview of the coming attractions around all the Antarctic shorelines.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2010
@PE
Yeah to all that- I just hadn't seen the 87% figure before. Quite a nasty shock, I can assure you.
Briantllb
1 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2010
The 87% figure has been around for a while.

If the alleged current warming trend, which is still open to some debate due to the highly selective nature of the data. Is actualy the result of human activity. What was the cause of the 6 other warming events over the last 650,000 years? Because it certainly was not human activity. Also; Can anyone say what the 'Normal' temperature of the planet is? Anthropogenic Global Warming is not a myth it is an outright lie.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2010
What was the cause of the 6 other warming events over the last 650,000 years?
None of those events approach the current one in either magnitude or rate of warming. Nor were they clearly caused by a drastic change in atmospheric greenhouse effect, or by massive deforestation and other land use changes.
Because it certainly was not human activity.
So if it wasn't human activity before, therefore it isn't human activity now? Nice logic. Using your approach, I can prove that nobody is ever guilty of murder: after all, people have been dying of natural causes for millennia.
Can anyone say what the 'Normal' temperature of the planet is?
That'd be the temperature in absence of human intervention. And, "normal" temperatures /usually/ change slowly enough for ecosystems to adapt without triggering global mass extinctions...
thermodynamics
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2010
Briantllb: I assume you are not being disingenuous and you are not totally scientifically ignorant so I will point you at one source of known forcing of climate over periods of tens of thousands of years.

http://en.wikiped...h_cycles

The earth wobbles and twists in its orbit. That is one of many causes of changes in climate. However, the present change is not congruent with the other known forcing events. It is congruent with what we understand to be the combination of human changes to the planet as well as natural forcing. The resolution of the human contribution is getting better. Let me know if this is understandable to you.