The Byrd Station sits on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), supporting scientific missions to explore the Antarctic environment. Temperatures monitored at the Byrd Station dating back to 1958 have now been studied by researchers from Ohio State University, who report:
a marked increase of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in average annual temperature since 1958—that is, three times faster than the average temperature rise around the globe.
The WAIS melt currently contributes 0.3mm to the sea level each year, behind Greenland's ice sheet, which is estimated to raise sea levels 0.7mm per year.
Two issues give the findings particular concern.
- The WAIS sits largely in the warming ocean, making it vulnerable to melting both due to rising air and water temperatures.
- There is enough ice trapped in the WAIS to raise sea levels up to 6 meters (almost 20 feet) -- however, scientists have estimated that not more than half of that contribution will be reached in this millenium.
That estimate limiting the melt in the WAIS dates to 2001, long before the newest data showing global warming proceeds faster than predicted.
Andrew Monaghan, study co-author and scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), notes that “We've already seen enhanced surface melting contribute to the breakup of the Antarctic’s Larsen B Ice Shelf, where glaciers at the edge discharged massive sections of ice into the ocean that contributed to sea level rise. The stakes would be much higher if a similar event occurred to an ice shelf restraining one of the enormous WAIS glaciers."