Coach House Geography

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Why Antarctica isn’t melting much – yet

Posted by Lindy on January 13, 2010–yet.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=environment

Antarctica is warming, but not melting anything like as much as expected. In fact, during the continent’s summer this time last year, there was less melting than at any time in the 30 years that we have had reliable satellite measurements of the region.

The continent’s winters and springs have warmed the most, but it is still too cold to allow any melting. Melting in Antarctica can only take place in the summers, which have warmed very little.

The main factor in Summer warming depends on the strength of the winds that circle the continent. Circumpolar winds act as a barrier to warm air. They have become stronger over the past four decades, effectively sealing off most of the continent each summer from the effects of global warming.

What is really paradoxical is that the circumpolar winds appear to have strengthened because the ozone layer in the stratosphere has thinned. This has made the lower stratosphere cooler and generated stronger winds beneath. But as the ozone hole heals in the coming decades, the winds may weaken, the continent will become much warmer in summer – and melting will increase.


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