A new NASA report released this week shows that the melting rate of land ice in West Antarctica, the fastest-melting region on the continent, has tripled during the last 10 years.
The Business Insider reported on Dec. 4 that NASA researchers found that between 1992 and 2013, the region lost an average of 83 gigatons of ice every year. Walt Meier, a scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explains how this is possible in a new video from Science@NASA.
Meier pointed out in the video that sea ice and land ice are two completely different things. Sea ice is simply frozen ocean water, which forms a layer of ice on top of the sea. Land ice originates on land, forming from compacted snow to form glaciers and ice sheets. Land ice melting into the oceans is what causes sea levels to rise.
According to the Business Insider report, Meier believes all this melting land ice might actually be causing the increase in sea ice. As glaciers melt, they pour cold freshwater into the ocean. Freshwater is easier to freeze than salty seawater, so the influx from the melting glaciers could be adding to Antarctica’s sea ice.
Climate change is altering weather patterns all over the globe, causing air flow to shift around the planet and storms to become more frequent and intense. This phenomenon is evident is Antarctica, which is becoming increasingly windy.
Meier says these winds can carry cold air from the icy continent out over the ocean, where they aid in the freezing process out in the open ocean. Differing conditions and weather patterns around the world can lead to different outcomes — an impact of changing climate that we are literally seeing everywhere around us, from droughts in California to extreme November snow storms in Buffalo, NY.