For years, scientists who tracked the effects of global warming believed temperatures at the continent on the bottom of the world were staying the same or slightly cooling. But a new study, published in Thursday’s journal Nature, goes back further than earlier work and filled in a gap in data with satellite information, ultimately showing that Antarctica is getting warmer.
“Contrarians have sometime grabbed on to this idea that the entire continent of Antarctica is cooling, so how could we be talking about global warming,” said study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, quoted the Associated Press. “Now we can say: no it’s not true.”
The study does not point to manmade climate change as the cause of the Arctic warming, as a smaller and different study that came out last year did.
“We can’t pin it down, but it certainly is consistent with the influence of greenhouse gases,” said another co-author of the study, NASA scientist Drew Shindell. Some of the effects could also be natural variability, he said, reported the AP.
Antarctica has only a handful of monitoring stations. The researchers used satellite data and mathematical formulas to fill in missing information.
That made outside scientists hesitant about making large conclusions with such sparse information.
“This looks like a pretty good analysis, but I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical,” Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, wrote in an e-mail, according to the AP.
Shindell said the study was more comprehensive than those in the past and jibed with computer models.
The research found that since 1957, the annual temperature for the whole continent of Antarctica has warmed by almost 1 degree Fahrenheit but is still 50 degrees below zero.
East Antarctica, which scientists had long thought was cooling, is warming slightly when yearly averages are observed over the past 50 years, said lead author Eric Steig of the University of Washington in Seattle.
West Antarctica “will eventually melt if warming like this continues,” said Shindell, Reuters reported.
Ice in Antarctica contains enough frozen water to raise world sea levels by 57 meters or 187 feet, so even a small amount of melting could impact Pacific islands or coastal cities.