Implications for Climate and Research
The findings of the study are observational and, as such, don’t offer an obvious explanation for the observed patterns of dynamic ice movement.
The changes in winds might be a result of natural variability or they might have a human cause – for example, as a result of the hole in the ozone layer or changes in atmospheric composition.
Nevertheless, the research is significant, Dr. Holland explained, in that observed changes in the direction of movement of sea ice can not only help to explain the changes in ice cover but can help understand wider processes too.
In many cases the growth of sea ice forms a ‘buffer’ protecting the ice sheet from (relatively) warmer water: and this could have an impact on ocean circulation.
It’s the sinking of dense, cold water from growing sea ice which creates the ‘ocean pump’ driving ocean circulation. This creates the major ocean currents which are a vital part of heat transport across the globe and are major contributors to determining the planet’s climate.
Climate Modelling: Applying the Results of the Study
Predicting the future climate is a tricky business, beset by high levels of uncertainty and often requiring the use of inconsistent or poor-quality model results in the absence of anything better. The results produced by the BAS/NASA team can be used to compare to the climate models in order to improve them.
“This means we can start to talk in more detail about observed climate change,” explained Dr Holland. “Antarctic prediction is in its early days and studies like this allow climate scientists to use observations to constrain their modelling, increasing confidence levels”. He explained that climate modelling in the Antarctic has been less accurate than for the Arctic so that “these results can be used to diagnose problems in climate modelling.”
Holland, P.R. and Kwok, R. Wind-driven trends in Antarctic sea ice motion. (2012). Nature Geoscience. Accessed November 11, 2012.