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Which part of East Antarctica is most susceptible to warming?

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The Recovery subglacial basin in the eastern Weddell Sea is the section of East Antarctica most vulnerable to rising global temperatures, according to a study by New Zealand researchers. While current research is mostly focused on the Totten Glacier — on the other side of the continent — the authors think the Recovery basin is more likely because it is the area most sensitive to rising ocean temperatures. This prediction is off the back of experimental evidence, previous simulations, modelling of long-term catchment-averaged ice loss, and forecasted climate change scenarios for 2100 AD. The authors believe that the timing and magnitude of the retreat in this area are likely to dictate how East Antarctica contributes to climate change.

Journal/conference: Geophysical Research Letters

Organisation/s: Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science

Funder: This work was funded by contracts RDF-VUW1501 and VUW1203 of the Royal Society of New Zealand, with support from the Antarctic Research Centre (Victoria University of Wellington), New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment contract CO5X1001, and GNS Science. Development of PISM is supported by NASA grants NNX13AM16G and NNX13AK27G.

Media Release

From: Wiley-Blackwell

Abstract
Models predict considerable spatial variability in the magnitude of future climate change around Antarctica, suggesting that some sectors of the continent may be more affected by these changes than others. Furthermore, the geometry of the bedrock topography underlying the East and West Antarctic ice sheets, together with regional differences in ice thickness, mean that certain ice drainage basins may respond more or less sensitively to environmental forcings. Here we use an ensemble of idealized climates to drive ice-sheet simulations that explore regional and continental-scale thresholds, allowing us to identify a hierarchy of catchment vulnerabilities based on differences in long-term catchment-averaged ice loss. Considering this hierarchy in the context of recent observations and climate scenarios forecast for 2100 CE, we conclude that the majority of future ice loss from East Antarctica, both this century and over subsequent millennia, will likely come from the Recovery subglacial basin in the eastern Weddell Sea.

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