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San Diego Research Finds Atmospheric Rivers Building Ice In Antarctica

Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

A storm on the Thwaites Ice shelf in Antarctica in this undated photo.

Researchers have revealed that the same storm systems which carry rain to Southern California also help create huge amounts of ice on Antarctica.

A NASA satellite is helping uncover how storms, known as atmospheric rivers, help build the ice pack on Antarctica.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Reported by Erik Anderson

Ice on the western part of the southern continent was piling up because storms repeatedly dumped snow there.

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“We use these satellites that had altimeters, which are these highly precise instruments that can measure tiny changes in the surface elevation of the ice sheet,” said Susheel Adusumilli, a glaciologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

The ice sheet thickened most along the western edge of the continent because that is where a series of moisture-laden storms hit the shore.

The frequency and impact of the phenomenon surprised one of the report’s co-authors.

“They are mainly a sub-tropical and tropical origin storm,” said Meredith Fish of Rutgers University. She used to work at The Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes.

Fish says atmospheric rivers are common in the western Pacific.

“Thinking about how far that has to travel and still have such profound impacts, that was, and with such high frequency, that was surprising,” Fish said.

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Atmospheric rivers are widely expected to increase in frequency and power as the climate warms. That could boost Antarctic ice levels even more.

It remains unclear whether that increase offsets the amount of ice the continent is shedding because of climate change.

“We need to find out if those things balance out and the current consensus is they might not and the melt might still outweigh gains from snowfall,” said Adusumilli.

Melting Antarctic ice contributes to rising sea levels off the coast of San Diego.

The findings are published in the current edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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