Antarctica Undergoes a Few Changes

Over the past 33 years now, scientists have noticed that Antarctica’s sea ice has spread further each winter, and many theories exist as to why this might be. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits the current theories are “incomplete and competing.”

But after so much research over the years, scientists are finally beginning to find a few of the answers they seek on the frozen continent. Some speculate that the shift in climate is the cause. Far up north, the Arctic sea ice has been in decline since 1981, and this has been cited as proof that global warming is real.

But if so, then why would its southern counterpart be gaining a small portion of what the northern region has lost? In fact, the last two years the Antarctic ice has broken records, and if it continues on the current trend, it’s likely to do it again this year, as well. There is a similar trade-off of ice duration between the Bellingshausen Sea at about 90 degrees West, which has lost a lot of ice, and an increase of ice in the Ross Sea, which is at about 180 degrees–a dividing line between east and west on the continent.

This phenomenon has, of course, led sea ice scientists to look for the cause. Around the region, a pocket of low atmospheric pressure aids in a southward flow of warm air helping to melt Bellingshausen, and at the same time, forcing cold air to travel north from the Ross Sea, creating more ice.

Also at play is a westerly wind belt that encircles Antarctica all around the Southern Ocean, driving ice northward wherever land meets the sea. This overall behavior fluctuates in intensity so that sometimes there is more ice and sometimes less. Over the past three decades, the Southern Annular Mode that causes this has been more positive, making the ice more and more prevalent. However, as this report suggests, it’s highly unlikely that the ice will continue in this behavior forever.

Did you know that over time, more and more explorers have ventured south to Antarctica? There are numerous science stations down on the frozen continent and tourists are even able to go there on vacation. A researchers’ community of sorts has formed, with people from all the others continents working together to get their data.

It’s certain that the people WAY down under could use a way to communicate; people such as this group of 52 stranded passengers, for example. In fact, with so much human activity on Antarctica, it has now become desirable to have cell phone service on the frozen wasteland. With that in mind, GMS service has been set up on Macquarie Island, a small island just outside the Antarctic Circle.

It seems that a California-based private company called Range Networks teamed up with the Australian government to rig the thing up. Best of all, the satellite uplink is not needed for local communications, so even in the worst weather, it may still be possible to get a signal, and the service is rather inexpensive. To operate it, all the company needs is a Linux server and some radio software, and they’re all set.

That’s good news for people like the ones who recently managed to have this valuable chunk of ice protected so they can study the minerals there, which they believe could shed light on the region’s history and evolution over millions of years.

[image courtesy of International Polar Foundation – René Robert]