Benny Peiser / 17.09.2007 / 16:29 / 0 / Seite ausdrucken

“It’s hard to see a global-warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica”

Antarctica—a vast territory whose sea-ice growth in winter effectively doubles its size to envelop an area three times that of Canada—is the world’s coldest continent by far, its permanent ice sheet regulating the Antarctic atmosphere. It is also the world’s windiest and driest continent by far, and its highest by far, with a mean elevation of 2,300 metres.

It is also the world’s most remote continent, its least explored and least understood.

Not until 1998, with the advent of new technologies and improved scientific understanding, did human knowledge “allow the question of the global relevance of Antarctica to be explored in detail for the first time,” stated David Bromwich of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University. A decade ago, Dr. Bromwich was embarking on a major research project for the National Science Foundation to begin to understand this frozen continent, which is the primary heat sink in the global climate system, and “plays a central role in global climate variability and change.”

His mission, in part, dealt with the science of global warming, which could not be settled until Antarctica gave up its mysteries. “The validity of global change scenarios remains controversial,” he said at the time.

A decade later, despite accumulating research, the validity of climate change scenarios continues to be controversial, and the unknowns surrounding the role of Antarctica continue to overwhelm the little that’s known. As Dr. Bromwich reported earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at San Francisco, “It’s hard to see a global-warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now.”

Dr. Bromwich presented his findings shortly after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with new findings in February that pointed to catastrophic consequences if mankind didn’t change its ways. The science is settled, the IPCC indicated, its global models reliable.

Yet Dr. Bromwich found that the global models that the IPCC relies on are at odds with his own findings. Antarctica’s temperatures during the late 20th century did not climb as global climate models predicted.

“The best we can say right now is that the climate models are somewhat inconsistent with the evidence that we have for the last 50 years from continental Antarctica,” he stated, adding that “We’re looking for a small signal that represents the impact of human activity and it is hard to find it at the moment.”

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