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Underwater 'storms' may hold key to melting Antarctic ice

Climate Change

Underwater 'storms' may hold key to melting Antarctic ice
Posted: November 14, 2014

 NBC News  Scientists using robotic ocean gliders to wander frigid Antarctic waters say they may have discovered a mechanism behind the melting of polar ice shelves – miniature submarine "storms" that are lobbing packets of warmer water toward the continent.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shed light on the complicated currents that could potentially be contributing to the loss of West Antarctic ice.

Thawing ice in Antarctica has contributed to the rising ocean levels that are a signature of climate change, and it’s thought that warm water reaching the ice shelf has played a key role in melting it. But it’s not clear how warm water has managed to get past the continental shelf break to start the process, and an international team of researchers wanted to find out.

Beneath the Antarctic sea, a robot submarine. Credit: NBC News

“Polar regions are areas where changes are being amplified,” said lead author Andrew Thompson, a Caltech physical oceanographer. “They also tend to be regions where we don’t have as many observations, because they’re very difficult to get to.”

Expeditions to the Antarctic can run about $30,000 or more per day, Thompson pointed out – and it costs precious time as well as money.

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