As world-wide climate change has been an increasing focus for scientists, the frozen continent of Antarctica has been of particular concern — and now new research shows that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is contributing to rising sea levels due to some unexpectedly high temperature increases in the region. This report, just published in Nature Geoscience, shows that Central West Antarctica is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world, with a temperature increase of 2.4°C (about 4.3° F) occurring between 1958 and 2010. In particular, the scientists found "statistically significant warming" during Antarctica's summer season, especially during the peak melting season of December and January.
The concern is that these rapidly rising summer temperatures will lead to more "frequent and extensive" melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, an event that could contribute significantly to rising sea levels. Of course, there are a few caveats, particularly the plus-minus of 1.2° C that needs to be applied to the 2.4° C increase the researchers found —that's a potential variance worth being aware of. Still, this data does reinforce an earlier study from 2009 that skeptics claim overstated warming concerns. Paired with this new research, however, the 2009 study looks to have actually underestimated the temperature increases, particularly in the aforementioned summer months. With another Antarctic summer underway, we'll soon have more data on how severe the warming continues to be — hopefully before the West Antarctice Ice Shelf rapidly comes apart, as the Larsen B ice shelf did back in 2001.