Antarctica's Atmosphere Warming Dramatically, Study Finds

March 30, 2006

The air over Antarctica has warmed dramatically over the past 30 years, according to a new study of archived data collected by weather balloons floated over the icy continent.

The greatest warming—nearly 1.4ºF (0.75ºC) per decade in the winter—has occurred about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surface.

Scientists are hard pressed to explain the temperature spike, which is three times larger than the global average. The rise cannot be explained by the climate models scientists use to predict the effects of global warming from increased greenhouse gases.

(Read National Geographic magazine's "Global Warning: Signs from Earth.")

"That could point to some mechanism of climate change we don't understand, a failing in these models, or just a result of natural climate variability," said John Turner, a climate scientist with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England.

Meanwhile, surface temperatures have increased 4.5ºF (2.5ºC) in the last 50 years on the Antarctic Peninsula, the mountainous arm that trails toward the southern tip of South America.

"But the rest of Antarctica has done virtually nothing [at the surface]", Turner said.

Turner is the lead author of the study, which appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

David Bromwich, a meteorologist with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University in Columbus, said there's "no doubt this [warming] is real."

But, he added, the finding only "deepens the mystery of what's going on over Antarctica."

Potential Implications

According to Turner, the unexpected warming could affect snowfall across the continent, which might have implications for global sea-level rise.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.