Periodic changes in wind patterns above the West Antarctic Ice Sheet can bring warmer bodies of water to key glaciers in the area, speeding-up the rate of ice melting.
New research shows that these changes in wind patterns are driven in large part by man-made climate warming.
Satellite monitoring has shown that large areas of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) are losing ice, and that the rate of melting has picked up ‘substantially’ in the last few decades, the team explains.
Past research has shown that winds can foster higher melt rates by bringing in warmer bodies of water to the glaciers — but not what drives those changes.
The team, which included members from the United Kingdom and the United States, combined observations and climate model simulations to show how the winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.
The team also shows that human-caused climate heating has induced long-term changes in the winds, such that conditions favorable for warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent.
As for what the future holds, the team also used models to simulate future wind dynamics in the area and how they would fluctuate with changes in greenhouse gas levels.