It appears that global warming might have unprecedented effects in Antarctica. While the rising levels of the oceans and the seas and the melting of glaciers have troubled scientists for a long time, a new study shows alarming signs that the situation is dramatic.
The study is part of ANDRILL, a research project evaluated at $20 million that is gathering information on the South Pole. Spanning over twelve years, it has involved about one hundred scientists from seven different countries. What they did was to drill holes into the sea ice and ice shelves of Antarctica in order to take samples of the floor of the ocean.
Until now, researchers have discovered that increases in greenhouse gases did affect ice shelves, no matter in what amounts. However, the new study proves that not only the ice shelves are affected, but also the ice sheets, otherwise known as land-based glaciers.
According to the lead author and palaeontologist from the University of Nebraska David Harwood,
“We’re drilling back into the past to understand the future and how dynamic our planet can be.”
In order to do so, the scientists made use of large amounts of drilling equipment in McMurdo Sound, because the place has harsh conditions: the average temperature in August is about -23 degrees Fahrenheit. A tubular drill with a diamond tip was used to bore a hole of 24 feet through the ice, but also 1,200 feet through the water and 3,300 feet through the floor of the ocean. After all this effort they managed to collect rock samples that show signs of environmental conditions from twenty million years ago.
Aradhna Tripati, geochemist at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability of UCLA, was the one who analyzed them. After taking a close look at the fossils, molecules and levels of carbon dioxide, she concluded that the Antarctic ice shelf has a great probability of disappearing completely if the levels of carbon dioxide will not decrease.
Ice shelves are warmed by the sea beneath them and the air above them and are very sensitive to any temperature changes. If they will disappear, the remaining ice will reflect the radiation of the Sun away from our planet. Furthermore, after it will melt completely, the radiation and heat will be greatly absorbed by the dark seas.
Global warming might have unprecedented effects in Antarctica, and these consequences will be permanent unless conservational actions are taken on a global scale.
Image Source: Smithsonian.com