Impact of waves on Antarctic sea ice may answer lingering climate change questions

Impact of waves on Antarctic sea ice may answer lingering climate change questions

An old objection to climate change may be countered by the publishing of a new paper from climatologists in New Zealand.

Climatologists have almost put all the pieces together on the recent theory of climate change, however, one elephant remains in the room. The world is getting warmer but the average area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica is expanding. For good reason, this critical piece of evidence is a hot topic in the climate change debate and has the conversation in this area locked to a stand-still.

Alison Kohout and her colleagues at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Christchurch, New Zealand, have found a possible explanation involving the ocean’s waves in a paper they just published. “It was really quite exciting,” Kohout says. “This … really shows that it’s quite possible [wave heights] are playing an important role.”

Scientists measured frequency, wave height and energy data collected from five autonomous wave sensors. The sensors were spread out on a 250-kilometer line on the Antarctic sea ice. They noticed the array of ocean wave heights slamming into the sea ice controls the area the ice increases or decreases. Waves that are three meters or higher slamming into the ice can break up sheets of ice much further inland. Smaller waves show very little effect on damaging the sea ice. Kohout said, “When the waves are bigger, the ice is going to get munched up a lot quicker.”

To check themselves, the researchers compared satellite sea ice observations from 1997 to 2009 with modeled wave heights at that time. Their predictions strongly correlated. Waves that were shorter in a certain area—like the Ross Sea—exhibited increased sea ice. The ice withdrew when the waves were larger.

Kohout and her team did not explicitly say this evidence was the missing piece to the puzzle of climate change but, they do believe since this variable has not been measured before, it can be implicated into future studies to solve this stand-still debate, shooing the elephant from the room.

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