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Changing Antarctic Winds Create New Sea Level Threat

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Projected changes in the winds circling the Antarctic may accelerate global sea level rise significantly more than previously estimated, according to research published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Changes to Antarctic winds have already been linked to southern Australia’s drying climate, but now it appears they may also have a profound impact on warming ocean temperatures under the ice shelves along the coastline of West and East Antarctic. “When we included projected Antarctic wind shifts… we found water up to 4°C warmer than current temperatures rose up to meet the base of the Antarctic ice shelves,” said lead author Dr Paul Spence from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

“The sub-surface warming revealed in this research is on average twice as large as previously estimated, with almost all of coastal Antarctica affected. This relatively warm water provides a huge reservoir of melt potential right near the grounding lines of ice shelves around Antarctica. It could lead to a massive increase in the rate of ice sheet melt, with direct consequences for global sea level rise.”

Most sea level rise studies have focused on the rate of ice shelf melting due to the general warming of the ocean over large areas, but this study examined the impacts of changing winds on currents down to depths of 700 metres around the coastline....

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