Press Release, Potsdam Institute
Although it sounds paradoxical, rising temperatures might result in more snowfall in Antarctica. Each degree of regional warming could increase snowfall on the ice continent by about 5 percent, an international team of scientists led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research now quantified. Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, their work builds on high-quality ice-core data and fundamental laws of physics captured in global and regional climate model simulations. The results provide a missing link for future projections of Antarctica’s critical contribution to sea-level rise. However, the increase in snowfall will not save Antarctica from losing ice, since a lot of the added ice is transported out into the ocean by its own weight.
“Warmer air transports more moisture and hence produces more precipitation – in cold Antarctica this takes the form of snowfall,” lead author Katja Frieler explains. “We have now pulled a number of various lines of evidence together and find a very consistent result: Temperature increase means more snowfall on Antarctica,” says Frieler. “For every degree of regional warming, snowfall increases by about 5 percent.”
To narrow down future snowfall on Antarctica to a robust estimate, the scientists from Potsdam collaborated with colleagues in the USA and the Netherlands. “Ice-cores drilled in different parts of Antarctica provide data that can help us understand the future,” says Peter U. Clark from the Oregon State University, USA. “Information about the snowfall spanning the large temperature change during the last deglaciation 21,000 to 10,000 years ago tells us what we can expect during the next century.” The researchers combined the ice-core data with simulations of the Earth’s climate history and comprehensive future projections by different climate models, and were able to pin down temperature and accumulation changes in warming Antarctica.
Double paradox: Warming brings more snowfall, more snowfall enhances ice loss