Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First comprehensive review of the state of Antarctica's climate

British Antarctic Survey: The first comprehensive review of the state of Antarctica’s climate and its relationship to the global climate system is published this week (Tuesday 1 December) by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). The review — Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment — presents the latest research from the icy continent, identifies areas for future scientific research, and addresses the urgent questions that policy makers have about Antarctic melting, sea-level rise and biodiversity.

Based on the latest evidence from 100 world-leading scientists from 13 countries, the review focuses on the impact and consequences of rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Southern Ocean; rapid ice loss in parts of Antarctica and the increase in sea ice around the continent; the impact of climate change on Antarctica’s plants and animals; the unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide levels; the connections between human-induced global change and natural variability; and the extraordinary finding that the ozone hole has shielded most of Antarctica from global warming.

Dr. Colin Summerhayes, Executive Director of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research said, “Antarctica is an unrivalled source of information about our planet. This review describes what we know now and illustrates how human activity is driving rapid climate change. By integrating this multidisciplinary evidence into a single source we will help scientists and policy makers understand the distinction between environmental changes linked to the Earth’s natural cycles, and those that are human induced. The work is particularly important because it puts Antarctic climate change into context and reveals the impact on the rest of the planet.”

Professor John Turner of British Antarctic Survey is the lead editor of the review. He said, “For me the most astonishing evidence is the way that one man-made environmental impact — the ozone hole — has shielded most of Antarctica from another — global warming. Understanding the complexities surrounding these issues is a challenge for scientists — and communicating these in a meaningful way to society and to policymakers is essential. There is no doubt that our world is changing and human activity is accelerating global change. This review is a major step forward in making sure that the latest and best evidence is available in one place. It sets the scene for future Antarctic Research and provides the knowledge that we all need to help us live with environmental change.”…

A summary of the report’s findings are detailed in the following 10 key points:
1. Hole in ozone layer has shielded most of Antarctica from global warming
2. Warming of the Southern Ocean will cause changes in Antarctic ecosystem
3. Rapid increase in plant communities across Antarctic Peninsula
4. Rapid ice loss in parts of the Antarctic
5. 10% increase in sea ice around the Antarctic
6. Carbon dioxide levels increasing at fastest pace in 800,000 years
7. Sea ice loss directly affecting krill levels and penguin colonisation
8. Antarctica predicted to warm by around 3°C over this century
9. West Antarctic ice loss could contribute to 1.4 m sea level rise
10. Improved modelling of polar processes required for accurate predictions

Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica, shot by Commander Jim Waldron USNR (Retired), National Science Foundation

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