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Expert comment on Nature Antarctic warming paper

Posted in Expert Reactions on January 23rd, 2009.

New research published in the journal Nature suggests that Antarctica is warming despite earlier signs that the icy continent was cooling.

The scientists claim the evidence makes it “almost certain” that human activity is responsible for at least some of the warming.

Martin Manning, Professor of Climate Change at Victoria University‘s School of Government comments on the research:

Comments on: Steig, E.J.; Schneider, D.P.; Rutherford, S.D.; Mann, M.E.; Comiso, J.C.; Shindell, D.T. (2009). Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457: 459-462.

“The spotty nature of temperature records in the Antarctic means that climate scientists have limited information from which to estimate the long term changes in this remote but important part of the Earth’s climate system. A recent study by US scientists published in the journal Nature this week may have made some headway with this problem.

“Their results show a bigger warming trend over Antarctica than previous estimates and a warming over the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet close to the global average. This has raised concerns about melting of the ice sheet which would lead to sea level rise.

“The new research uses techniques from mathematical statistics to estimate the patterns of temperature change occurring at times when more data is available and then applies these to fill in the gaps when less data is available. While the results should be viewed with caution they may be the best we can do for long term temperature trends with the available information.

“In science we are always concerned with the uncertainties around what we know, and this study shows that the uncertainties in Antarctic warming are still large. We also need to know whether snow fall has been increasing or decreasing in order to get a complete picture he said. Satellite measurements were showing that overall the Antarctic was losing ice but it is important that we understand what is happening on the ground.”

Prof Martin Manning
Research Fellow Climate Change
Phone: 0-4-463 5474
Fax: 0-4-463 7413
Email: martin.manning@vuw.ac.nz

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