JUL 12, 2018 7:37 AM PDT

The problem with Antarctica's gusting winds

Flashback about 16,000 years ago. During this time, the Southern Ocean was experiencing a sudden rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperatures in a period of less than 100 years. "During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C," said lead author of the new study published in Nature Communications, Dr. Laurie Menviel. Does any of that sound at all familiar?

The Southern Ocean, in all its glory. Photo: Kids World Travel Guide

According to Science Daily, Heinrich events like the one Dr. Menviel mentions, refer to rapid increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide occur over a very short period of time. Many scientists have used Heinrich event 1 as a case study in previous investigations because it is relatively easy to decipher the changes in ocean currents, temperature, ice and sea levels within the region’s geology. Yet nonetheless, scientists hadn’t been able to figure out why Heinrich event 1 saw such a strong spike in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This new research suggests that the spike the region experienced from this particular Heinrich event could have been caused by strong westerly winds.

Westerly winds refer to winds that blow from the west. During Heinrich event 1, these winds moved toward Antarctica, getting stronger as they went. This, in turn, created a chain of events: stronger winds meant greater ocean circulation, which meant more transport of carbon-rich waters from the deep Pacific Ocean to the surface of the Southern Ocean. This resulted in a release of about 100Gt of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean into the atmosphere.

The most harrowing part of this discovery is the similarity that the natural release of carbon dioxide during Heinrich event 1 has with our current crisis from human-driven climate change. "The carbon exchange in particular between the Southern Ocean and the atmosphere matter deeply for our climate. It is estimated the Southern Ocean absorbs around 25% of our atmospheric carbon emissions and that ~43% of that carbon is taken up by the Ocean south of 30S," Dr. Menviel commented.

However, the scientists urge that more research is needed in order to fully understand the complexity of the systems involved. "For this reason, it is vital to bring more observational networks into the Southern Ocean to monitor these changes. We need a clear warning if we are approaching a point in our climate system where we may see a spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the rapid temperature rise that inevitably follows,” said Dr. Menviel

Sources: Science Daily, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 03, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 03, 2019
Small forests provide key ecosystem services
Due to human expansion in agriculture and livestock, logging, gas and oil exploration, and infrastructure expansion, forests today are more fragmented than...
DEC 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 23, 2019
The Captivating Mating Process of a Jumping Spider
When you’re a male jumping spider and you fancy finding a female to mate with, you might try your hand – or in this case paddle – at impr...
JAN 07, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 07, 2020
Baby Penguins Are Often Bullied to Death by Adults
Most people envision penguins as fun, happy-go-lucky birds residing in the Earth’s chilly polar regions, but that’s not always the case. In fac...
JAN 17, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 17, 2020
What's the carbon footprint of your fish stick?
New research from scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz highlights the unsustainable footprint of the processed fish industry. The study, ...
JAN 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 19, 2020
Flying Foxes Must be Careful of Crocodiles When Hydrating
Flying foxes absolutely despise the Sun, and with that in mind, it should come as no surprise to anyone that they look for shade whenever possible. One pro...
JAN 27, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 27, 2020
Study Suggests That Vineyards can Adapt to Climate Change
Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have some good news for wine lovers. Delicate wine grapes are highly susceptible to changes in te...
Loading Comments...