‘Rivers’ of Warm Air Melt Antarctic Ice

Strengthening rivers of relatively warm and moist air blowing southward from the middle latitudes are melting huge patches of sea ice around Antarctica, new research reveals.

Diana Francis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and her colleagues found that these atmospheric rivers are now making the storms that rage around Antarctica more powerful by fuelling them with more water vapour.

The storms help churn up nutrients for marine life. But when amplified by the atmospheric rivers, they accelerate climate change by breaking up the sea ice and opening up large patches of darker ocean water. These openings, known as polynyas, reflect less solar energy back into space than the white ice, allowing the water to heat up.

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