Dr Nerilie Abram cutting the ice core

By Claire

A paper published today in Nature, by our very own Dr Nerilie Abram, shows that recent warming of the West Antarctic Peninsula is unusual within the history of this region.

A 364m long ice core has been drilled from James Ross Island, providing the first comprehensive temperature record from the West Antarctic Peninsula.

Analysis of the chemical composition of the water molecules within the ice core provides us with a record of temperature spanning the last 15 000 years. This record has revealed that the West Antarctic Peninsula began to naturally warm from 600 years ago.

On top of this natural warming is a clear, rapid warming signature that is linked to man-made climate change.

The combination of the natural warming and human induced warming is of great concern to scientists, since it has likely poised the West Antarctic Peninsula for collapse.

“The centuries of ongoing warming have meant that the marginal ice shelves on the northern Peninsula were poised for the succession of collapses that we have witnessed over the last two decades,” says Dr Abram.

“If this rapid warming that we are now seeing continues, we can expect that ice shelves further south along the Antarctic Peninsula that have been stable for thousands of years will also become vulnerable to collapse.”

In 2002, the Larsen B Ice sheet collapsed over only one month, demonstrating the sensitivity of the large ice sheets on the West Antarctic Peninsula to collapse.

“This new ice core record of Earth’s past climate puts into perspective how unusual the recent warming of the Antarctic Peninsula has been and why we should be concerned about the impact that continued warming will have on the Antarctic ice sheets.”

Check out Nerilie’s interview on ABC radio here.