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Scientists stunned by Antarctic rainfall and a melt area bigger than Texas

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Chris Mooney Washington Post  June 15 2017  see full article here

….In the Antarctic summer of 2016, the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest floating ice platform on Earth, developed a sheet of meltwater that lasted for as long as 15 days in some places. The total area affected by melt was 300,000 square miles, or larger than the state of Texas, the scientists report.

That’s bad news because surface melting could work hand in hand with an already documented trend of ocean-driven melting to compromise West Antarctica, which contains over 10 feet of potential sea level rise.

“It provides us with a possible glimpse of the future,” said David Bromwich, an Antarctic expert at Ohio State University and one of the study’s authors. The paper appeared in Nature Communications.

“You probably have read these analyses of West Antarctica, many people think it’s slowly disintegrating right now, and it’s mostly thought to be from the warm water eating away at the bottom of critical ice shelves,” Bromwich continued. “Well, that’s today. In the future, we could see action at the surface of these ice shelves as well from surface melting. So that makes them potentially much more unstable.”…

From ScienceDaily: Widespread snowmelt in West Antarctica during unusually warm summer Posted: 15 Jun 2017 05:46 AM PDT

Julien P. Nicolas et al January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño Nature Communications 8, Article number: 15799 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms15799

Abstract: Over the past two decades the primary driver of mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been warm ocean water underneath coastal ice shelves, not a warmer atmosphere. Yet, surface melt occurs sporadically over low-lying areas of the WAIS and is not fully understood. Here we report on an episode of extensive and prolonged surface melting observed in the Ross Sea sector of the WAIS in January 2016. A comprehensive cloud and radiation experiment at the WAIS ice divide, downwind of the melt region, provided detailed insight into the physical processes at play during the event. The unusual extent and duration of the melting are linked to strong and sustained advection of warm marine air toward the area, likely favoured by the concurrent strong El Niño event. The increase in the number of extreme El Niño events projected for the twenty-first century could expose the WAIS to more frequent major melt events.

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