Northern Antarctic Glaciers are Melting Faster Than Ever Before Despite Increased Snow

First Posted: Sep 15, 2014 09:11 AM EDT

Glaciers in the northern Antarctic Peninsula are melting faster than ever before. Scientists have found that even increased snowfall won't prevent the continued melting, and that these glaciers are highly vulnerable to even slight changes in air temperatures.

As temperatures continue to rise, ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic is melting at an unprecedented rate. Yet in the Antarctic Peninsula, these rising temperatures are causing more havoc than normal. Because warmer air holds more moisture, the amount of snowfall has also increased. While some scientists have suggested that this increased snowfall may actually offset the melting glaciers, new research shows that this isn't the case.

"These small glaciers around the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula are likely to contribute most to rising sea levels over the coming decades, because they can respond quickly to climate change," said Bethan Davies, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This study is the first to show how glaciers in this vulnerable region are likely to respond to climate change in the future. Our findings demonstrate that the melting will increase greatly even with a slight rise in temperature, offsetting any benefits from increased snowfall."

In order to examine the extent and rate of melting glaciers, the researchers conducted fieldwork on James Ross Island, northern Antarctica Peninsula.  They mapped and analyzed changes to a glacier over the past 10,000 years using a combination of glacier and climate modeling, glacier geology and ice-core data.

In the end, the researchers found that the glacier remained roughly the same size for thousands of years until it started to grow again about 1,500 years ago. Now, though, it's melting faster than ever before and it's estimated over the next 200 years, it will become far smaller than any point over the last 10,000 years.

The findings reveal how climate change is causing these glaciers to melting faster than ever before. This research is crucial to understanding how changing temperatures will impact not only this region, but also places around the world as sea levels continue to rise.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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