Scientists are excited by the melting of the Antarctic ice: “We are completely unprepared”


A chronic lack of observations of the vast ocean surrounding Antarctica is hindering more accurate predictions of the effects of the climate crisis, a meeting of 300 scientists concluded. The Southern Ocean has a huge impact on the Earth’s climate, absorbing a lot of additional heat and carbon dioxide caused by human activities, writes The Guardian.

But at a time when the region is undergoing dramatic changes, including record low sea ice levels, the ocean is like a “data desert,” the scientists said.

Nearly 300 scientists from 25 countries concluded on Friday a week-long conference in Hobart hosted by the Southern Ocean Observing System (Soos), a major international science initiative aimed at coordinating and improving observations around Antarctica.

The conference’s closing statement said the Southern Ocean is undergoing “critical change” with record low sea ice levels, record high temperatures and “dramatic” changes in the penguin population.

“The chronic lack of observations of the Southern Ocean challenges our ability to detect and assess the impact of change,” the scientists said in a statement.

Sea ice levels around Antarctica are the lowest on record over the past two summers in the southern hemisphere. As the region approached the peak of winter last week, satellite data showed that there was about 2.5 million square meters of ice. km less than the long-term average. Scientists said the dramatic ice melt this winter is unprecedented.

“We were completely unprepared for this, and it was completely unexpected, and this is due to the lack of our observing system,” laments Dr. Andrew Meyers, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey.

According to him, global climate models have difficulty reproducing changes in the Southern Ocean, and this is due to a lack of data.

While satellites have been good at capturing how much ice the ocean covers, scientists know very little about the thickness of the ice or changes beneath it.

“Global warming is actually ocean warming, and the Southern Ocean is controlling the rate at which the Antarctic ice sheet is melting, which is the biggest uncertainty in predicting future sea level rise,” Dr. Meyers said.

Antarctica’s ecosystems have been closely linked to the growth of phytoplankton and krill, which have themselves been linked to annual cycles of sea ice melt, Meyers said.

Earlier this month, Antarctic scientists warned that the number of extreme events on and around the continent – from loss of sea ice to melting ice sheets and heatwaves – will almost certainly increase as the planet continues to warm.

This year, scientists found that the deep current of the Antarctic Ocean, which carries nutrients around the globe and influences climate, has slowed by about 30% since the 1990s. A separate study found that the slowdown associated with increased ice melt in Antarctica is likely to intensify in the coming decades.

Dr Syan Henley, Soos co-chair and marine scientist at the University of Edinburgh, says the Southern Ocean plays a “disproportionate” role in the global climate system.

The world’s oceans absorb about 90% of the extra heat the planet holds, largely due to humans burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. According to Henley, about 75% of this heat absorption took place in the Southern Ocean.

The oceans also absorb about 30% of the additional CO2 from human activities, and about 40% of this ocean absorption occurs in the Southern Ocean.

Syan Henley notes: “If you look at the coverage of the oceans, the number of observations has increased. But the Southern Ocean is still an information desert. There is a chronic lack of data to address some of the most pressing issues. It is now very clear that sea ice in Antarctica is in danger, and this also threatens its role in the climate system.”

Also in attendance was Dr. Ken Johnson, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who is leading a project to install hundreds of ocean floats with sensors that measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH and nitrate levels.

“The Southern Ocean is the engine of the Earth’s climate. At a time when we need to measure it more, we track it less,” says Dr. Johnson.

According to the scientist, the number of observations from sensors aboard cargo ships was declining and thousands of kilometers of ocean were often left unchecked, especially in winter in the southern hemisphere.

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