Antarctica’s largest ice shelf has melted due to rainfall caused by an El Nino weather event.
In the coming decades sea levels could rise by as much as four feet if freak weather patterns continue.
Scientists believe that last year’s El Nino brought warmth from across the Pacific, causing the Ross Ice Shelf to melt.
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Back in the summer of 2016, the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica, which is currently the largest floating ice platform on Earth developed an astonishingly large sheet of meltwater covering a space of 300,000 square miles which persisted for approximately fifteen days.
Now, researchers from Ohio State University have got to the bottom of what happened to trigger this highly unusual event. Their findings could come to have serious implications, not only for Antarctica but the rest of the world.
EL NIÑO EVENT BRINGS RAIN TO ANTARCTICA, AND IT COULD HAVE MAJOR CONSEQUENCES
A team, Ohio State University, led by the Antarctica expert David Bromwich observed the melt event from a monitoring station based in West Antarctica. This monitoring station detected that there was a sudden warming of the local atmosphere which brought with it some clouds containing an unusually high proportion of moisture. It is believed that the lakes and pools that were discovered on the Ross Ice Shelf following the melt event were caused by rainwater from these peculiar clouds.
“The story of melt all over the ice shelf rattled through the science community as it happened, ” said Robin Bell, who researches the Antarctic at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute at Columbia University, “Who had heard of rain in Antarctica—it is a desert!”
At this current time, it does not appear that this deeply unusual melt effect had any significant consequences for the region or the rest of the world, but it does point to the beginning of a potentially worrying trend. Researchers working on a comprehensive study of the future of Antarctica have suggested that there could be a series of major melt events in the space of the next few decades which could lead to the sea levels rising by as much as four feet. This could have a knock-on effect in the region surrounding Antarctica which could cause even further ice shelves to melt because of the excess filtering water in the icy architecture. According to Bromwich, the fact that one of the melt events predicted by the researchers has now been confirmed as occurring, it suggests that there could be many more potentially dangerous melt events to come in the future.
It is believed that the unusual weather conditions that precipitated the melting on the Ross Ice Shelf were caused by an El Niño event which brought warmth to the West Antarctica region. While El Niño events are sporadic, it is believed that the effects of climate change will make them more frequent in the future which could have catastrophic effects for the entire continent of Antarctica, and indeed, the whole world.
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