A new study by NASA found that Antarctica is gaining ice as opposed to losing it, countering everything you thought you knew about global warming.
Before you break out those environmentally-friendly party hats though, we just want you to keep two things in mind:
- This doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening
- This discovery isn’t actually a good thing
The space agency’s study found that the rate at which Antarctica has been adding ice to its landmass has been slowing over time. The continent added 112 billion tons of ice from 1992 to 2001, but that number dropped to 82 billion tons between 2003 and 2008. The amount of snowfall in the region has also decreased by 11 billion tons since 1979.
Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, believes Antarctica only has 20 to 30 years before it truly begins shedding its ice sheets.
“I don’t think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses,” he said in a statement.
So why is Antarctica lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of melting in the first place?
“At the end of the last Ice Age, the air became warmer and carried more moisture across the continent, doubling the amount of snow dropped on the ice sheet,” Zwally said.
That extra boost in snowfall accumulated over Antarctica and was slowly compacted into solid ice. This thickening, sustained over thousands of years, led to such a massive gain of ice that it proved enough to outweigh the gradual temperature increases of global warming. But again, that won’t last much longer.
Now for the even darker side of the discovery. Researchers have, for quite some time now, attributed much of the world’s sea level rise to ice that melted in Antarctica. So if the stats around sea level rise are still correct and the extra water isn’t coming from Antarctica, it begs the question:
Where is all that water actually coming from?
“If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for,” Zwally said.
In other words, scientists don’t know. Looks like we’ll have to stay tuned and keep our fingers crossed.