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A doubling in snow accumulation in the Western Antarctic Peninsula

More evidence of changing weather patterns around the Antarctic Peninsula — a region where climate has changed rapidly over the last 50 years — is published this month in Geophysical Research Letters (online).

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Desert Research Institute, USA, report a doubling of snowfall in the western Antarctic Peninsula since the 1850s, with a particularly rapid increase each decade since the 1970s. Although the findings are consistent with predictions of increased snowfall as the Antarctic Peninsula gets warmer, the magnitude of the change is surprising. Records of snowfall across the rest of Antarctica appear to have changed very little during this time.

Scientists have used various instruments and technologies to make direct observations and measurements of climate since the first permanent Antarctic research stations were established over 50 years ago.

Lead author, Liz Thomas of BAS said,

“To understand our changing climate we need go back in time. This is where ice cores come in. Our climate models suggested that a location known as Gomez* would be a good place to extract an ice core to find out about the impact of changing weather patterns on snowfall. Evidence from the core is consistent with our direct observations of temperature over the last 50 or so years.

“The marked and increasingly rapid rise in snow accumulation on the western Antarctic Peninsula is yet more evidence of dramatic climate change in the region. The rapidity is significant because it shows that large scale changes in weather patterns can happen very quickly - even within our lifetime - and if these shifts in snowfall can happen in the Antarctic Peninsula, they could happen elsewhere.”

This new finding contributes to an ongoing series of investigations on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that aims to improve our forecasts of future climate change.

Find link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive

Authors

Dr. Liz Thomas

Publication

Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 35, L01706, doi:10.1029/2007GL032529, 2008