The eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, a finger of the southern polar continent that juts toward South America, has experienced summer warming of perhaps a half-degree per decade – a greater rate than possibly anywhere else on Earth – in the last 50 years, and that warming is largely attributed to human causes.
But new University of Washington research shows that the Southern Hemisphere’s fall months – March, April and May – are the only time when there has been extensive warming over the entire peninsula, and that is largely governed by atmospheric circulation patterns originating in the tropics.
The autumn warming also brings a notable reduction in sea ice cover in the Bellingshausen Sea off the peninsula’s west coast, and more open water leads to warmer temperatures on nearby land in winter and spring (June through November), said Qinghua Ding, a UW research associate in Earth and space sciences. In fact, the most significant warming on the west side of the peninsula in recent decades has occurred during the winter.
“Local northerly wind pushes warmer air from midlatitudes of the Southern Ocean to the peninsula, and the northern wind favors warming of the land and sea ice reduction,” said Ding.
He is the lead author of a paper explaining the findings, published online this month in the Journal of Climate. Eric Steig, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is co-author. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.