Recent trends in melting conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and their implications for ice-sheet mass balance and sea level

Long-term records from meteorological stations on the Antarctic Peninsula show strong rising trends in the annual duration of melting conditions. In each case, the trend is statistically significant and represents a major increase in the potential for melting; for example, between 1950 and 2000 the record from Faraday/Vernadsky Station showed a 74% increase in the number of positive degree-days (PDDs). A simple parameterization of the likely effects of the warming on the rate of snow melt suggests an increase across the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet from 28 ± 12 Gt a–1 in 1950, to 54 ± 26 Gt a–1 by 2000. Given a similar rate of warming over the next 50 years this may reach 100 ± 46 Gt a–1. The majority of this increased meltwater does not drain into the sea but is refrozen in the ice sheet, and it is difficult to predict the fraction of ablation that will become runoff; however, a calculation based on an established criterion for runoff indicates that the contribution from the Antarctic Peninsula, as a direct and immediate response to climate warming is significant, equivalent to (0.008–0.055) mm a–1 of global sea level rise. Given future warming this could easily treble in the coming 50 years. This contribution due to increased runoff could be augmented by any dynamic imbalance in the glaciers draining the ice sheet. This finding appears to contradict the conclusions of previous assessments, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which considered the contribution of runoff from Antarctica to sea level rise would be insignificant.


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Authors: Vaughan, David G. ORCIDORCID record for David G. Vaughan

On this site: David Vaughan
1 January, 2006
Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research / 38
Link to published article:[0147:RTIMCO]2.0.CO;2