Researchers from the Australian National University have found that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing the Southern Ocean winds to strengthen, which in turn is trapping more of the cold air over Antarctica.
This is also causing the strongest belt of winds in the Southern Ocean to shift farther to the south, which is causing more precipitation in Antarctica, while Australia is getting less rainfall and more droughts.
"With greenhouse warming, Antarctica is actually stealing more of Australia's rainfall. It's not good news - as greenhouse gases continue to rise we'll get fewer storms chased up into Australia," said Dr. Nerilie Abram, from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences and lead researcher of this project.
Dr. Abram and colleagues analyzed Antarctic ice cores going back 1,000 years and data from tree rings and lakes in South America. Before this study, Antarctic climate observations were only available going back to the middle of the last century.
According to Dr. Abram, the Southern ocean winds are now stronger than at any other time in the past 1,000 years and have been particularly prominent over the past 70 years.
Global temperature change (trend) from 1970-2013. Clearly, most of the warming over the past 40+ years has been in the far north, while there has been little change over the Southern Ocean and for Antarctica as a whole. Image courtesy of NASA GISS.
"Strengthening of these westerly winds helps us to explain why large parts of the Antarctic continent are not yet showing evidence of climate warming," said Dr Mulvaney, from the British Antarctic Survey.
This study was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
What is the scientific method? What does the peer-reviewed process involve?
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