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Amount of Ice Circling Antarctica Plunges from Record High to Record Lows

Floating ice off the southern continent steadily increased from 1979 and hit a record high in 2014

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Ice, Antarctic, Scientists
FILE - An iceberg floats in Andvord Bay, Antarctica, Feb. 14, 2018. VOA

The amount of ice circling Antarctica is suddenly plunging from a record high to record lows, baffling scientists.

Floating ice off the southern continent steadily increased from 1979 and hit a record high in 2014. But three years later, the annual average extent of Antarctic sea ice hit its lowest mark, wiping out three-and-a-half decades of gains — and then some, a NASA study of satellite data shows.

In recent years, “things have been crazy,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In an email, he called the plummeting ice levels “a white-knuckle ride.”

Serreze and other outside experts said they don’t know if this is a natural blip that will go away or more long-term global warming that is finally catching up with the South Pole. Antarctica hasn’t showed as much consistent warming as its northern Arctic cousin.

Ice, Antarctic, Scientists
The amount of ice circling Antarctica is suddenly plunging from a record high to record lows, baffling scientists. Pixabay

“But the fact that a change this big can happen in such a short time should be viewed as an indication that the Earth has the potential for significant and rapid change,” University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati said in an email.

At the polar regions, ice levels grow during the winter and shrink in the summer. Around Antarctica, sea ice averaged 4.9 million square miles (12.8 million square kilometers) in 2014. By 2017, it was a record low of 4.1 million square miles (10.7 million square kilometers, according to the study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The difference covers an area bigger than the size of Mexico. Losing that much in just three years “is pretty incredible” and faster than anything scientists have seen before, said study author Claire Parkinson, a NASA climate scientist.  Antarctic sea ice increased slightly in 2018, but still was the second lowest since 1979. Even though ice is growing this time of year in Antarctica, levels in May and June this year were the lowest on record, eclipsing 2017, according to the ice data center.

Ice melting on the ocean surface doesn’t change sea level. Non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science often had pointed at increasing Antarctic sea ice to deny or downplay the loss of Arctic sea ice.

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While the Arctic has shown consistent and generally steady warming and ice melt — with some slight year to year variation — Antarctica has had more ups and downs while generally trending upward. That is probably in part due to geography, Parkinson and Serreze said.

The Arctic is a floating ice cap on an ocean penned in by continents. Antarctica is just the opposite, with land surrounded by open ocean. That allows the ice to grow much farther out, Parkinson said.

When Antarctic sea ice was steadily rising, scientists pointed to shifts in wind and pressure patterns, ocean circulation changes or natural but regular climate changes like El Nino and its southern cousins. Now, some of those explanations may not quite fit, making what happens next still a mystery, Parkinson said. (VOA)

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Mars Losing Water Faster Than Expectations of The Scientists

The ExoMars rover will travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life

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Mars
Mars today is cold and dry – a desert world -- but dry river valleys and lakebeds suggest that water covered much of the Red Planet billions of years ago. Previous research has also found that Martian water mostly escaped into space. Pixabay

Mars may have been a place brimming with water in the form of seas, lakes and rivers once but all of that evaporated into space as researchers now report that the Red Planet is losing water faster than expected.

Mars today is cold and dry – a desert world — but dry river valleys and lakebeds suggest that water covered much of the Red Planet billions of years ago. Previous research has also found that Martian water mostly escaped into space.

The gradual disappearance of the water occurs when sunlight and chemistry turn water molecules into the hydrogen and oxygen atoms that they are made up of. When they are broken down, Mars’s weak gravity is unable to keep hold of them and they disappear off into space, according to the study, published in the journal Science.

In the new study, an international research team, led partly by Franck Montmessin from French National Centre for Scientific Research in France, revealed that water vapour is accumulating in large quantities and unexpected proportions at an altitude of over 80 km in the Martian atmosphere.

The development was spotted using the Trace Gas Orbiter probe that was sent to the Red planet on board the ExoMars (Exploration of Mars) mission, run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos.

Measurements showed that large atmospheric pockets are even in a state of supersaturation, with the atmosphere containing 10 to 100 times more water vapour than its temperature should theoretically allow.

“With the observed supersaturation rates, the capacity of water to escape would greatly increase during certain seasons,” the authors wrote. The researchers point out that seasonal changes were the key factors behind how water vapour was distributed in the Martian atmosphere.

Mars
Mars may have been a place brimming with water in the form of seas, lakes and rivers once but all of that evaporated into space as researchers now report that the Red Planet is losing water faster than expected. Pixabay

The 2020 mission of the ExoMars programme will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the surface of Mars. A Proton rocket will be used to launch the mission, which will arrive to Mars after a nine-month journey.

The ExoMars rover will travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life.

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It will collect samples with a drill and analyse them with next-generation instruments. ExoMars will be the first mission to combine the capability to move across the surface and to study Mars at depth. (IANS)