Media ReleaseFrom: AAAS
Special Issue: Antarctica
The first recorded sighting of Antarctica – Earth’s southernmost continent – was made 200 years ago, in 1820. In this special issue of Science, “Antarctica,” three Reviews and a News feature celebrate this remote and frozen land and the host of scientific discoveries that have been made there over the last two centuries. “Together, these pieces are intended to provide a window into some of the most important physical aspects of the fauna of this remarkable part of the world,’ writes Science editor Jesse Smith. In the first Review, Robin Bell and Helene Seroussi overview the 34-million-year-long history of the Antarctic Ice Sheets. Here, Bell and Seroussi describe the two continent-spanning ice sheets – the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets – as highly dynamic structures that store the vast majority of Earth’s fresh water and continue to evolve as the world warms. However, recent measurements show that portions of East and West Antarctic ice are losing mass at unprecedented rates as they become exposed to warming ocean waters. This melting ice has the potential to contribute to global sea level rise significantly. Understanding these processes is critical in order to mitigate sea level rise over the coming century. David Holland and colleagues describe how the evolution of Antarctic ice critically depends on its interaction with the surrounding ocean in a second Review. The authors outline the complex integrated system that ties the Antarctic Ice Sheet melt to the ocean’s temperature and atmospheric and ocean circulation. According to Holland et al., the consequences of Antarctic melt will further affect ocean currents surrounding the southern continent and continue to amplify ice loss. In the last Review, Frank Pattyn and Mathieu Morlighem discuss how the Antarctic Ice Sheet is expected to change in our warming future. Pattyn and Morlighem show that mass loss from the ice sheet is picking up pace – an acceleration that will likely continue over the coming decades and centuries. Also, from the Science News department, Eli Kintich reports on the recent and mysterious die-off of thousands of penguins on a remote Antarctic Island.