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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Rains in Antarctica

Rains in Antarctica

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, June 16, 2017/Categories: natural history, video, sustainability, environment, climate change

                                     Waterfall On Nansen Icesheet, West Antarctica (credit: YouTube)

In what is considered a polar desert, rain if not supposed to fall in Antarctica. It has now been recorded along with massive waterfalls filmed flowing off an ice sheet. Writing in Nature Communications, researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanograpy and the University of Ohio, among others, reported:

"extensive and prolonged surface melting in the Ross Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in January 2016. The unusual extent and duration of the melting was linked to strong and sustained movement of warm marine air toward the area. In particular, our observations highlighted the presence of low-level, liquid-water clouds, which may have aided the heating of the snow surface." 

                  

           Ross Ice Sheet Melt Days, January 2016 (credit: Nature Communications)

The study used data gathered by NASA's Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) mission that showed rain clouds were widespread over West Antarctica in January 2016. The clouds were linked to a strong el Nino then in progress and shown as the number of "melt days" measured.

"Data from January 12, 2016 suggest that rain fell over parts of the Ross Ice Shelf at the beginning of the (melting) event which may have preconditioned the snow surface for prolonged melting."

As with most environmental research, more questions were raised than answered. In their conclusions, the authors noted opposing predictions for the future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS):

"two recent modelling studies have come to different conclusions about the future evolution of surface melt over the Ross Ice Shelf and its impact on the WAIS. One study suggests that the phenomenon will remain minimal throughout the twenty-first century. The other projects that the Ross Ice Shelf will experience extensive surface melt and retreat substantially by 2100. In this context, the extent to which the January 2016 event is a precursor of the climate of West Antarctica in the coming decades is uncertain. Our study highlights some of the key mechanisms that need to be resolved to address this question."

Stay tuned!

WHB

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