Multidecadal warming of Antarctic waters

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Science  05 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6214, pp. 1227-1231
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256117

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Decadal trends in the properties of seawater adjacent to Antarctica are poorly known, and the mechanisms responsible for such changes are uncertain. Antarctic ice sheet mass loss is largely driven by ice shelf basal melt, which is influenced by ocean-ice interactions and has been correlated with Antarctic Continental Shelf Bottom Water (ASBW) temperature. We document the spatial distribution of long-term large-scale trends in temperature, salinity, and core depth over the Antarctic continental shelf and slope. Warming at the seabed in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas is linked to increased heat content and to a shoaling of the mid-depth temperature maximum over the continental slope, allowing warmer, saltier water greater access to the shelf in recent years. Regions of ASBW warming are those exhibiting increased ice shelf melt.

Bringing up the problem of ice shelf melting

Warm water intruding from below is heating up the ocean that covers the continental shelf of Antarctica. Schmidtko et al. report that Circumpolar Deep Water has been warming and moving further up onto the shelf around Antarctica for the past 40 years, causing higher rates of ice sheet melting (see the Perspective by Gille). These observations need to be taken into account when considering the potential for irreversible retreat of parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Science, this issue p. 1227; see also p. 1180

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