Glacier Melting as a Result of Climate Change is Worse than We Think

Antarctica's glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate due to shifting wind patterns brought on by climate change.


has undoubtedly impacted the in . As global temperatures on our planet continue to rise, the ice caps melt and collapse into the sea. This melting ultimately results in rising global sea levels that are threatening coastal cities worldwide. Excessive water rise could make it so that cities resting at sea level may become submerged as a new coastal water surface level is established. 

Shifting Wind Patterns – The Missing Link 

Although increased temperatures have played a part, heat alone has not always explained the phenomenon of accelerated ice cap melting as it relates to climate change. There has been more that researchers have needed to discover in order to come up with a complete explanation. Climate change researchers realized early on that West Antarctica’s glaciers were surrounded by air temperatures that were far too cold to be the only culprit. They turned their attention to the ocean water itself to find the answers. 

How Changing Wind Patterns Effect Ice Cap Melting 

According to a new study published in Nature Geoscience, scientists have discovered that climate change has caused a shift in wind patterns that are contributing to the acceleration of the melting glaciers. Their research shows that this shift in wind patterns due to climate change is bringing warm ocean water in direct contact with Antarctica’s glacier ice, ultimately accelerating its demise. However, this warm ocean water is coming from older water deep within the ocean that has not been affected by . Shifting wind patterns are having such a great impact, it is the deeper layers of warm ocean water that are changing patterns. 

According to Paul Holland, a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey for ice-ocean research and co-author of the study, the older waters that are reaching the glaciers in Antarctica would not have been heated by global warming. To understand the connection between the warmer waters reaching Antarctic glaciers and wind patterns, Holland and his team looked at data reaching as far back as the 1920s – the decade when wind pattern and glacier ice pattern data was first tracked. 

By looking at nearly 100 years of data, Holland and his team determined that some major changes have taken place in terms of wind patterns and overall climate behavior in the Antarctic. Winds over the Amundsen Sea, a region located on the western side of the continent, would primarily blow westward just a century ago. This direction kept the warm water away from the glaciers. Data from 2019 shows that the winds are now blowing east which has caused deep, warmer ocean layers to move towards the Amundsen Sea and melt the ice. 

Holland likened the phenomenon to a hot water tap that turns on when the wind blows east and turns off when the wind blows west.  

Human-Caused Global Warming to Blame for Melting Ice Caps 

The warm ocean water reaching the glaciers in Antarctica is the result of global warming’s impact on land temperatures. Climate change is shifting how our earth responds to heat. With the surface of Earth warming unevenly, it has a direct effect on how Earth’s winds and oceans respond. Climate change is proving to have not just a direct effect on the observable environment around us, but a domino effect on a variety of interconnected environmental processes. 

Richard Alley, a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University, was not involved in this particular study but has extensive experience researching Antarctica and global warming patterns. He mentioned that the results of the wind pattern study increase overall confidence in the climate change and scientific communities that the retreat of West Antarctic ice that is now contributing to sea-level rise was ultimately triggered by human-caused global warming. 

Holland explained that if greenhouse gas emissions are not controlled by 2100, we will have wind gusts that will reliably blow towards the east. There is hope that we can stabilize the current wind patterns by 2050, but it is unlikely that a reversal in this trend will be seen anytime soon. According to Holland, to stabilize wind patterns as they are now and put the brakes on the damage done to Antarctica’s ice caps, urgent and diligent effort on the part of mankind will be required. 



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