The world has been heating up for at least two centuries and is turning Antarctica into a real snowball.
Scientists this week (April 9) announced new tests (pdf) showing how much snow on the Great White Continent has grown over time The findings were presented (pdf) at the European Union General Assembly Geosciences in Vienna, Austria, where researchers revealed that annual snowfall has increased by 10% since the beginning of the 19th century.
That's a lot of snow. Around 272 gigatonnes fell more snow in Antarctica each year between 2001 and 2010 than in the years between 1801 and 1810, according to the researchers. That's enough to fill the Dead Sea twice.
It may sound strange to hear news of more snow at a time when scientists are still discovering more evidence that the polar ice caps are melting, raising sea levels around the world. But it makes sense, and it's not a good sign for Earth. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture in the air, which creates better conditions for snow over Antarctica. In fact, this is a sign of the same climatic problems that cause droughts, storms and floods.
The findings may help answer a question that scientists have had about the impact of snowfall on rapid climate change. In short, would there be more snowfalls in Antarctica that would slow the sea level rise by trapping the water in the form of snow? The answer: Probably not. A 2012 study published in the journal Nature suggested that more snow correlates with an increase in the speed at which ice breaks and floats.
The discovery was made thanks to research on 79 ice cores drilled throughout the continent. These cylinder-shaped samples allow scientists to examine layers of snow and ice that developed over time, offering a historical perspective of the Antarctic stations.
As the BBC pointed out, ice cores not only inform scientists when in history, but also how much precipitation and during what season. This is partly due to the presence in the ice cores of hydrogen peroxide, which occurs in nature when sunlight reaches the water vapor. The amount of that chemical in the layers of snow tells scientists if the snow fell in the summer months with long hours of sunlight or in the dark winter months. These data should help international scientists improve the accuracy of computer simulations that predict future sea level rise.
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