Based on observations, a new study determined that last year, a surface ice area the size of Texas melted in West Antarctica. What is uncommon, besides the massive size of the event, is the prolonged period throughout which it lasted.
Namely, specialists noted that meltwater remained on surface areas for even as long as 15 days. Previous research indicates that meltwater streams can further accelerate and prolong the thawing effect caused by warming ocean waters.
Massive Surface Ice Melt to Spell Trouble?
The affected region is situated in West Antarctica and measures around 300,000 square miles. It also includes the Ross Ice Shelf, the as yet largest piece of floating ice in the world. Data for the study was collected back in the 2016 Antarctic summer or the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.
The study was prompted by the increased levels of moisture in the air, recorded by a monitoring station. Following this report, researchers from several institutions started studying the event. One team, from the Ohio State University, analyzed the monitoring station recordings and then compared them to satellite data.
This analysis revealed the presence of a large melt event in the region, which spanned over 15 days. According to the research team, they suspect the El Niño as a possible cause behind the event. A particularly strong such phenomenon was taking place concomitantly with the melting.
Observations showed that, following its prolonged melting, some of the surface ice froze again. But scientists are concerned that this might not happen again in the future. They point out that, as the global average temperature is increasing, the effects of such a melting event may be quite serious.
The current surface ice melt did not lead to any problems. But once again, specialists state that an increasing number of such events could start changing the face of Antarctica. They could also result in a rise in sea water levels. These, in turn, could speed up the melting and generate a quite vicious melting circle.
Still, the study team points out that more research is needed to better understand the effects of surface ice melting and possibly start predicting them.
Current research results are available in the journal Nature Communications.
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