Follow the meltdown of the Antarctic

A new Norwegian weather station has opened in Antarctica. The results are coming in, and soon you will be able to follow them online every hour.

The researchers at work in Antarctica.

“Until now, we have been able to follow the Coastal Steamer and the Oslo-Bergen railway minute by minute. Now we will soon be able to keep a close eye on what is happening in Antarctica,” says Svein Østerhus, climate researcher at Uni Research, and the Bjerknes Centre.

Recent decades have seen dramatic reports from Antarctica of rising temperatures and ice shelves thinning and breaking up.

Ice shelves are the floating part of the ice cap. Until now, the large ice shelves have remained unaffected, but new models show that this could change dramatically.

You can keep track

The measurements from Antarctica will soon be available online.

The researchers will also publish explanations for the data from the weather station.

“We hope many people will find it interesting to follow, and we will also publish a variety of information about Antarctica and climate on the website,” says Østerhus.

Although it is interesting to study short-term changes, the most important work of the new meteorological station will be to study trends over time.

In this way, we will be able to see any changes within five, ten, fifteen, twenty or fifty years.

A possible increase from 20 cm to 4 metres

The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf is particularly threatened. Here, the annual rate of melting may increase from the current 20 cm to a full four metres over the next fifty years. This may make the ice shelf thinner.

That will reduce the force preventing the continental ice from sliding into the sea. More land ice sliding into the sea will mean a rise in sea levels, at worst by as much as three metres.

It may be that the ice in the Western Antarctic is more unstable than previously thought. Researchers are now working to find out what is actually happening there.

One of these is Svein Østerhus. He has been on 11 expeditions to Antarctica, starting as early as 1985.

Measurements over time are important

In order to fully understand developments, it is important to be able to measure changes in the ice over time. Researchers from Bergen have studied Antarctic ocean currents and ice since 1928.

In 1968, they were the first to place instruments there that could record data over a number of years. When these instruments were picked up from the sea after five years, it aroused great interest.

The disadvantage of these measurements is that they have not been continuous. There are gaps in the statistics. New, improved monitoring stations will provide more stable measurements.

The foundation for the current activity was laid in the 1960s, when Bergen, in cooperation with the Christian Michelsen Research Institute, developed the Bergen Current Meter. It was this type of instrument that was placed out in 1968, making researchers from Bergen pioneers in the study of the world’s coldest seawater.

This meter also laid the foundation for the Bergen firm Aanderaa Instruments. Østerhus has cooperated with this company in the development of the new weather monitoring stations.

The first permanent weather station was erected on a ridge in the southern Weddell Sea, where very cold and heavy water comes out of the ice shelf and gushes down into the depths of the sea.

This forms the bottom layer of all the world’s oceans. This ocean current is important for the large-scale ocean circulation known as the thermohaline circulation.


Oct. 21, 2015, 3:19 p.m.

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