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Perspectives

January 22, 2009
Antarctica warming more than previously thought

An image reflecting warming that has occurred in West Antarctica over the last 50 years, with the dark red showing the area that has warmed the most. Photo: EurekAlert

Professors Eric Steig and Michael Mann are the authors of a new report that points to warming in Antarctica, a continent that had previously been thought to be mostly cooling or remaining the same temperature.

They write at the “RealClimate” blog to explain the results of their research and counter false interpretations that have been circulating in the press and on the Internet.

State of Antarctica: red or blue?

A couple of us (Eric and Mike) are co-authors on a paper coming out in Nature this week (Jan. 22, 09). We have already seen misleading interpretations of our results in the popular press and the blogosphere, and so we thought we would nip such speculation in the bud.

The paper shows that Antarctica has been warming for the last 50 years, and that it has been warming especially in West Antarctica (see the figure). The results are based on a statistical blending of satellite data and temperature data from weather stations. The results don’t depend on the statistics alone. They are backed up by independent data from automatic weather stations, as shown in our paper as well as in updated work by Bromwich, Monaghan and others (see their AGU abstract, here), whose earlier work inJGR was taken as contradicting ours. There is also a paper in press in Climate Dynamics (Goosse et al.) that uses a GCM with data assimilation (and without the satellite data we use) and gets the same result. Furthermore, speculation that our results somehow simply reflect changes in the near-surface inversion is ruled out by completely independent results showing that significant warming in West Antarctica extends well into the troposphere. And finally, our results have already been validated by borehole thermometery — a completely independent method — at at least one site in West Antarctica (Barrett et al. report the same rate of warming as we do, but going back to 1930 rather than 1957; see the paper in press in GRL).

Here are some important things the paper does NOT show:

1) Our results do not contradict earlier studies suggesting that some regions of Antarctica have cooled. Why? Because those studies were based on shorter records (20-30 years, not 50 years) and because the cooling is limited to the East Antarctic. Our results show this too, as is readily apparent by comparing our results for the full 50 years (1957-2006) with those for 1969-2000 (the dates used in various previous studies), below.

2) Our results do not necessarily contradict the generally-accepted interpretation of recent East Antarctic cooling put forth by David Thompson (Colorado State) and Susan Solomon (NOAA Aeronomy Lab). In an important paper in Science, they presented evidence that this cooling trend is linked to an increasing trend in the strength of the circumpolar westerlies, and that this can be traced to changes in the stratosphere, mostly due to photochemical ozone losses. Substantial ozone losses did not occur until the late 1970s, and it is only after this period that significant cooling begins in East Antarctica.

3) Our paper — by itself — does not address whether Antarctica’s recent warming is part of a longer term trend. There is separate evidence from ice cores that Antarctica has been warming for most of the 20th century, but this is complicated by the strong influence of El Niño events in West Antarctica. In our own published work to date (Schneider and Steig, PNAS), we find that the 1940s [edit for clarity: the 1935-1945 decade] were the warmest decade of the 20th century in West Antarctica, due to an exceptionally large warming of the tropical Pacific at that time.

To read more, see the original post at the “RealClimate” blog.

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Comments

3 comments

#3

I have written a book GLOBAL ALARM based on the human responsibilities – overpopulation and pollution causing some of the problems and find your views interesting.
Jonna Vejrup Carlsen
http://www.global-alarm.dk

#2

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Strange how that happens

#1

Thank you for International News, as I think it is important to read and study the news from the whole world and not just from one city, state, or country. This was the first time I read World Focus, again keep up a professional jb.

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