Atlantic Ocean Currents Cause Climate Change in the Antarctic

First Posted: Jan 23, 2014 09:28 AM EST

As our oceans heat up, warm currents travel across the globe. These currents, though, now seem to be contributing to climate change in icier regions. Scientists have discovered that the gradual warming of the North and Tropical Atlantic Ocean is contributing to ice melt in Antarctica.

Over the past few decades, Antarctica has experienced dramatic climate change. In fact, its peninsula has felt the strongest warming of any region on the planet. Summer months have resulted in greenhouse gas increase and stratospheric ozone loss. Yet scientists have wondered exactly what might be behind climate changes that occur during Antarctica's winter.

In order to find that out, the researchers decided to take a closer look at the Atlantic Ocean. More specifically, they examined the North and Tropical Atlantic's Sea Surface Temperature (SST) variability. Before now, the Atlantic Ocean has largely been overlooked as a driver behind Antarctic climate change.

The scientists used a time-series analysis to better study warming trends. They matched changes in the North and Tropical Atlantic's SST with subsequent changes in Antarctic climate. In the end, they found strong correlations; warming Atlantic waters were followed by changes in sea-level pressure in the Antarctic's Amundsen Sea. The scientists also found that these warming patterns preceded the redistribution of sea ice between the Antarctic's Ross and Amundsen-Bellingshausen-Weddell Seas.

While this correlation provided some evidence of warming trends, the researchers decided to investigate a bit further. They used a global atmospheric model which allowed them to create a simulated warming of the North Atlantic. This revealed that warming in this ocean did cause climate change in Antarctica.

"From this study, we are learning just how Antarctic sea-ice redistributes itself, and also finding that the underlying mechanisms controlling Antarctic sea ice are completely distinct from those in the Arctic," said David Holland, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings reveal a bit more about how climate change in one area can impact even the far reaches of the globe. The study also raises a number of deeper questions, such as if the Antarctic sea ice change is fundamentally different from the well-reported changes in the Arctic. The research paves the way for future studies that will hopefully assess the impact and distribution of climate change.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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