Scientists report large-scale surface melting event in Antarctica during 2015-16 El Niño

June 15, 2017, University of California - San Diego
The Antarctic ice sheet. Credit: Stephen Hudson / Wikipedia

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a landbound mass of ice larger than Mexico, experienced substantial surface melt through the austral summer of 2015-2016 during one of the largest El Niño events of the past 50 years, according to scientists who had been conducting the first comprehensive atmospheric measurements in the region since the 1960s.

The science team conducting the ARM West Antarctic Radiation Experiment (AWARE) led by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reports that the melting caused by warm air bearing moisture and extensive cloud cover was likely delivered by El Niño over the ice . Melted snow was spotted over most of the Ross Ice Shelf, a thick platform of floating ice that channels about a third of the ice flowing from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the ocean.

The study, "January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño," was led by AWARE scientist Julien Nicolas of Ohio State University and appears in the June 15 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Though clouds can often cool the surface of the planet by reflecting solar radiation back to space, they also trap heat between the cloud deck and the ground. Meteorological data gathered during AWARE found that in this instance, the latter effect was the more influential.

The finding of this joint U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and National Science Foundation-funded project is of interest, said the scientists, because El Niño events are expected to become more common if planetary warming trends continue since surface melt enhances ice sheet instability already caused by warm ocean waters melting it from below.

"We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to deploy state-of-the art equipment to West Antarctica just before this large melt event occurred," said AWARE principal investigator Dan Lubin, a research physicist at Scripps Oceanography. "These atmospheric measurements will help geophysical scientists develop better physical models for projecting how the Antarctic ice sheet might respond to a changing climate and influence sea level rise."

Scientists had been able to see melt episodes in Antarctica via satellite during El Niño years of the past. The 2015-2016 event was the first, however, in which sophisticated instruments from the DOE's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility installed on the ice sheet and at McMurdo Station adjacent to the nearby Ross Ice Shelf were present and able to make detailed measurements of atmospheric conditions at the time of a large-scale melt.

El Niño is characterized by the movement of warm waters to the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, which often influences water temperatures off California. The same climate phenomenon also directs warm marine air toward West Antarctica. The AWARE team noted that the melting took place even in the presence of a wind pattern that usually counteracts the flow of warm air. During the positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), strong westerly winds blast around Antarctica, creating a fence of sorts that keeps the continent cold. The SAM during the 2015-2016 austral summer was strongly positive but nevertheless warm air penetrated the continent. AWARE researchers suggest that the melt might have been even more pronounced if the SAM were weak.

"In West Antarctica, we have a tug-of-war going on between the influence of El Niños and the westerly winds, and it looks like the El Niños are winning," said study co-author David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State. "It's a pattern that is emerging. And because we expect stronger, more frequent El Niños in the future with a warming climate, we can expect more major surface melt events in West Antarctica."

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on bedrock that is below sea level and is protected by a fringe of floating ice shelves. The melting and disintegration of these ice shelves would accelerate the flow of ice into the ocean. Were the ice sheet to melt completely, as probably occurred during the Earth's last inter-glacial period about 125,000 years ago, it contains enough mass to raise global mean sea level by three meters (11 feet).

Explore further: Climate change could trigger strong sea level rise

More information: Julien P. Nicolas et al, January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS15799

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cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 15, 2017
The scientists report on an induction heating event but they blame it on El Niño due to their utter ignorance.
Turgent
1.5 / 5 (8) Jun 15, 2017
This article is unique. The unsigned author did not lace this article with the usual grossly opinionated and ignorance global warming and climate change lies.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 15, 2017
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Cusco
4.2 / 5 (13) Jun 15, 2017
Is there any possible phenomena in the solar system that the Electric Universe fans won't take credit for? Not that they have any evidence for any of it, but who needs evidence?
nrauhauser
4 / 5 (8) Jun 16, 2017
Whole lot of ignorance on display here, but not the usual cast of characters.

A good article, we should be doing more in the way of observations like this.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 16, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 16, 2017
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neiorah
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 16, 2017
I wish everyone would get off their high horse. We do not understand the working of this world bc if we did hopefully we would not be in the situation we are in today. Man knows so little about where he lives and about the life that lives with us. He is so haughty and ignorant and if we get upset at each other bc we think we know more than someone else it proves that we are even more ignorant that everyone else is.
greenonions1
4 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2017
if we get upset at each other bc we think we know more than someone else it proves that we are even more ignorant that everyone else is
Perhaps. Of course we still have so much to learn - and presumably will never stop expanding our understanding of this vast cosmos. There is collective knowledge (call that science), and individual knowledge. Unfortunately it seems that how much I can cram into this small organic computer - is dependent on my early years. I attended a pretty shitty education system - and spent my formative years memorizing bible verses. But it is what it is. My beef is not about what an individual knows - but about the attitude. Today's article is one more piece in the giant puzzle of science. Look at comment 1 from cantdrive. It is not about what cantdrive knows - but more about the dismissive attitude to someone elses hard work. We are currently bottlenecked by a culture that is steeped in this dismissiveness to progress.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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greenonions1
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 18, 2017
Chris - there are many different lines of evidence that go into the development of proxy data - and they are cross referenced. Once again - and it just seems like a broken record here - if you have evidence that the consensus science on a subject is wrong - get famous - prove them all wrong. Win your Nobel prize. If I were to ask you what your credentials were for knowing better than thousands of climate scientists who have been studying this subject up close and personal for their whole lives, and constantly cross reference themselves - I know there would crickets.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Old_C_Code
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2017
Chris: right or wrong, no one wants to read pages of your comments, what's wrong with you? Ugh :/
Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 18, 2017
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greenonions1
4 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2017
Has it dawned on you that maybe you SHOULD want to track down every single critique of science you can find?
Except that would require an impossible level of expertise - on every subject in the universe. The alternative is understanding the process of science. Millions of minds - all working together to put together this huge jigsaw puzzle called the universe. Sure - mistakes are made - and the system corrects those mistakes in time. Your approach is to say - I personally am responsible to check the work of every scientist out there. You think you can do that - knock yourself out. I am comfortable trusting the process - knowing that there are problems with the process - but understanding that in time - it is a self correcting system. I trust the conclusions of millions of very highly trained specialists - collaborating on this venture - over your conclusions. This debate just goes around and around - perennially.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2017
Your argument: Science does not need anybody to question it.
Slight correction - the process of science does not need to be questioned. I am comfortable with that. Are there problems with the process? sure there are. Is that contradictory? No. Because the process is self correcting. The alternative is listening to one person. More of a religious approach to learning about our universe. Again and again - the argument comes down to this. Millions of specialists collaborating on the study of our universe - have a much better chance of being right - than you sitting at your computer keyboard - asserting that your thinking is superior to all of those experts. I don't care that you think that - except that here in the U.S. right now - we do not value education/science/critical thinking - thus we are bottlenecked - making glacially slow progress - and the arrogance of people like you is a big part of the problem.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Jun 19, 2017
The Anti-Pattern of Settled Science
That term is a red herring - thrown around to illicit a response. The scientific process is not about 'settling' science - it is about finding the best solution that fits the current data. New data is always possible - and a new best fit may emerge. Consensus science is about the majority view. There are always dissenters - and sometimes they are right - and in time the process acknowledges they are right - and the consensus shifts.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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greenonions1
5 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2017
The process of finding ideas in science is not part of the scientific method
Of course it is. Millions of people all over the world - looking at everything - and wondering how it works. Of course finding ideas is a part of the process. CERN is not about finding ideas? FFS. Anyways - I am interested in listening to science - not mumbo jumbo. I am happy to disconnect at this point - and will ignore your further comments. Yes I am bias. I think that the collaborative science process is the way to go. Good luck on your mission - I am out of the rabbit hole....
Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Da Schneib
4 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2017
The process of finding ideas in science is not part of the scientific method
Of course it is.
Good lord, @Reeve actually said this?

Here's how it works:
1. Make a conjecture. <- this is the idea part
2. Find some evidence for it. <- this is the first research part
3. Come up with a way to test it. <- now it's a hypothesis
4. Test it. <- this is the experiment or observation part
5. Let everybody in your field try to disprove it. <- this is the peer review part
6. Now it's a theory.

That's how science works. That's the process of "doing science." This has only been said on this forum perhaps fifty thousand times, mostly in response to cranks of various sorts who obviously don't understand it.
Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Jun 19, 2017
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