Monday, January 26, 2009

Antarctica: cooling in the east, but overall temps on the rise

Antarctica has been described as the "beating heart" of the planet - this massive expanse of ice actually expands and contracts over the course of the year as it regulates and impacts much of the planet's weather systems. And as we have all heard, it's future in the face of global warming can have a profound effect on the future of the planet.

Recent studies have shown that East Antarctica has actually been cooling slightly, and this has provided fodder for skeptics of climate change who claim that scientific projections of temperature change are in error.

However, a report just published in the journal Nature details a study of Antarctic temperatures over the past 50 years and finds that the icy continent's overall temperature is increasing.

"We now see warming taking place on all seven continents in accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases," said coauthor Eric J. Steig of the University of Washington.

In fact, West Antarctica has experienced slightly higher increases in temperature and has summarily seen greater erosion or melting. The East Antarctica anomaly is being attributed to the location of the hole in the ozone layer, positioned over this area of the continent. The loss of ozone over the white ice of East Antarctica allows for reflective sunlight to escape, thereby lowering the temperature. With the banning of chlorofluorocarbons, the ozone hole should be closed by the middle of the century and by then temperatures for the entire continent of Antarctica will be warming at a much higher rate.

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