May 29, 2014 12:22 PM EDT
Ocean Waves Contribute to Antarctic Ice Break-Up and Melting In Especially Stormy Areas, New Study Finds
The latest cause of ice melt, researchers from New Zealand have pointed, is likely ocean waves that can break ice up and make it melt faster.
According to BBC News, their new study, published in the journal Nature, found ice in Antarctica is breaking apart due to ocean waves from storm swells. To test their theory, the team placed sensors in various places on the Antarctic ice to measure what these storms could do to it.
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"At the ice edge, it's quite noisy," study lead author Alison Kohout, of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Christchurch, told BBC News. "You have lots of waves coming from all directions with a full spectrum of frequencies. But as the waves move into the ice, this all gets cleaned up to produce one beautiful, smooth wave of constant frequency.
"The ice floes bend with the waves, and over time you can imagine that this creates fatigue and eventually the ice will fracture. Interestingly, the fractures tend to be perpendicular to the direction of the waves, and to be of even widths."
They found ocean waves more than three meters in height sent disruptions through the ice that could be felt throughout for up to 350km. For future research, the team said tracking wave height will better aid scientists when they examine ice fracturing and melting.
The researchers also found their results aligned with data dating back to 1997, when stormier parts of the Antarctica had less ice extent than the ones with smaller waves. However, they could not apply their results to the Arctic, since both poles are fundamentally different.
"I think what's interesting for us in the Arctic is that the 'fetch' is increasing - the distance from the shores to the ice edge is increasing," Julienne Stroeve, of University College London and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, told BBC News. "That would allow the wind to work more on the ocean to produce larger waves that can then propagate further into the ice pack.
"[Another recent paper has already suggested] that wave heights are going to change with increasing distance from the ice edge to the land, and that could have more of an impact on ice break-up."