Rapid temperature increases above the Antarctic

Mar 31, 2006
Close-up of a melting glacier

Antarctica's atmosphere is heating up three times faster than the earth average, British scientists said after a 30-year study released Thursday.

A new analysis of weather balloon observations from the last 30 years reveals that the Antarctic has the same ‘global warming’ signature as that seen across the whole Earth, but is three times larger than that observed globally. The results by scientists from British Antarctic Survey are reported this week in Science.

Although the rapid surface warming in the Antarctic Peninsula region has been known for some time, this study has produced the first indications of broad-scale climate change across the whole Antarctic continent.

Lead author Dr John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey says, "The rapid surface warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the enhanced global warming signal over the whole continent shows the complexity of climate change. Greenhouses gases could be having a bigger impact in Antarctica than across the rest of the world and we don’t understand why. So far we haven’t been able to determine the mechanisms behind the warming."

"The warming above the Antarctic could have implications for snowfall across the Antarctic and sea level rise. Current climate model simulations don’t reproduce the observed warming, pointing to weaknesses in their ability to represent the Antarctic climate system. Our next step is to try to improve the models."

Daily launches of weather balloons have been carried out at many of the Antarctic research stations since the International Geophysical Year of 1957-8. The balloons carry instrument packages called radiosondes that measure temperature, humidity and winds up to heights of 20 km or more. Recently many of the old radiosonde records have been digitised and brought together in a project funded by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Analysis of the radiosonde data showed a winter season warming throughout the troposphere, which extends up to about 8 km, and cooling in the stratosphere above. The largest warming of almost three quarters of a degree Centigrade per decade was found close to 5 km above the surface. This is over three times the rate of warming observed for the world as a whole.

The warming has occurred across the whole of the Antarctic and is apparent in the balloon data from Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole to the many stations along the coast of East Antarctica.

Although climate change at the surface of the Earth receives wide attention, the atmosphere in recent decades has in fact warmed most some 4-5 km above the surface, with the stratosphere cooling above. There is increasing evidence that levels of greenhouse gases have provided a blanket above the Earth trapping heat at lower levels and giving cooling in the layers above.

Air temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula region have risen by over 2.5°C in the last 50 years, about 5 times faster than the global mean rate.

In recent decades both Polar Regions have shown very contrasting patterns of change at the surface, with the Arctic warming markedly, while there has been little change in the Antarctic outside of the Antarctic Peninsula region. Changes above the surface have not been investigated previously.

Source: British Antarctic Survey

Explore further: New chemical analysis of ancient Martian meteorite provides clues to planet's history of habitability

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Robotic ocean gliders aid study of melting polar ice

Nov 10, 2014

The rapidly melting ice sheets on the coast of West Antarctica are a potential major contributor to rising ocean levels worldwide. Although warm water near the coast is thought to be the main factor causing ...

2014 Antarctic ozone hole holds steady

Oct 30, 2014

The Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak size on Sept. 11, according to scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The size of this year's hole was 24.1 million ...

Recommended for you

Scientists 'map' water vapor in Martian atmosphere

2 hours ago

Russian scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), together with their French and American colleagues, have ...

Water fleas prepared for trip to space

6 hours ago

Local 'Daphnia' waterfleas are currently being prepared by scientists at the University of Birmingham for their trip to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be observed by astronauts.

The worst trip around the world

7 hours ago

As you celebrate the end of the year in the warmth of your home, spare a thought for the organisms riding with a third-class ticket on the International Space Station – bolted to the outside with no protection ...

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

7 hours ago

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.