Antarctica Has More Meltwater Streams Flowing Than Thought

Posted: Apr 20 2017, 5:46am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 20 2017, 5:48am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Antarctica Has More Meltwater Streams Flowing Than Thought
In the first such continent-wide survey, scientists have found extensive drainages of meltwater flowing over parts of Antarctica's ice during the brief summer. Credit: Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory / Columbia University
  • Meltwater Streams Found Flowing All Over Antarctica which is a Sign of Trouble

Scientists have found meltwater streams flowing all over Antarctica which is a sign of trouble.

Scientists have found a lot of drainage of meltwater in and around Antarctica’s ice sheets. This occurred during the short summer season. Researchers had thought that such conditions existed in the northern regions of Antarctica only.

Yet they are not confined to this area. The meltwater streams seem to vary with the upswings and downswings in heat in the region. Many explorers and travelers have reported Antarctic meltwater streams in the first half of the 20th century.

Yet no one ever knew the extent of these meltwater streams. By building up a database of these phenomena from 1947 onwards via military airplanes and from 1973 onwards via satellite imagery the facts were compiled.

Over 700 systems of seasonal change were noted down. These included in their purview: ponds, channels and special streams that were located on the fringes of the continent.

Some of these run on for 75 miles or more with the ponds being many miles in width. One of the lead authors of the study said that this was not a scenario of the future. It was actually happening right before our very eyes.

In fact, it has been decades since these meltwater streams have been gaining in strength. This is something which is a rarity though among Antarctic phenomena. A lot more exploration needs to be done before things can be said with certainty.

Scientists have discovered that seasonally flowing streams fringe much of Antarctica's ice. Each red 'X' represents a separate drainage. Up to now, such features were thought to exist mainly on the far northerly Antarctic Peninsula (upper left). Their widespread presence signals that the ice may be more vulnerable to melting than previously thought. Credit: Adapted from Kingslake et al., Nature 2017

The basic issue is global warming which has caused the meltwater to collect in the form of ponds and streams. A lot of drainages begin near mountains. Since here the features are darker, they absorb more sunlight and heat.

This of course causes more melting of ice sheets. Were things to proceed as they have in the past, a great deal more meltwater will be produced in the process.

Already a lot of damage has been done. If these conditions continue, things don’t look good in Antarctica. Antarctica is losing ice. Period. While such changes are occurring around the edges right now, in the future this trend could change.

Average temperatures have increased by 7 degrees Celsius in the past half a century in the Antarctic continent. In 1995 and 2002, large parts of the Larsen Ice Shelf also got annihilated.

Massive summer melting on East Antarctica’s Amery Ice Shelf, seen from NASA’s Landsat 4 satellite. The image shows about 520 square miles. Credit: NASA

In the southern regions, warm temperatures have not gotten any warmer, yet disintegration of ice shelves has proceeded apace. A lot is going on in the Antarctic continent that we don’t know about.

Further exploration and surveys will lend researchers valuable clues regarding the situation that is extant on this land mass that contains the South Pole.

Seen from an aircraft, a 400-foot-wide waterfall drains off the Nansen Ice Shelf into the ocean. Credit: Wong Sang Lee/Korea Polar Research Institute

The findings of this research are presented in a pair of papers, titled "Widespread movement of meltwater onto and across Antarctic ice shelves" and "Antarctic ice shelf potentially stabilized by export of meltwater in surface river," this week in the leading scientific journal Nature.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
Sumayah Aamir (Google+) has deep experience in analyzing the latest trends.




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