A blue lake in Antarctica sounds like a pretty beautiful sight. But a new study reveals some troubling facts about these lakes. In their study, researchers found that this trend of new meltwater ponds in the region shares a lot of similarities with Greenland.
Why is this a bad thing, you may ask? Greenland is the fastest melting ice mass on earth. It seems like global warming’s effects on the coldest parts of the world are only getting started.
Read on to find out what the blue lakes in Antarctica mean for the future of the coldest continent on Earth, and by extension, our own future:
Researchers found that the almost 8,000 new lakes that appeared in Antarctica between 2000 and 2013 could mean that the Langhovde Glacier is disappearing.
And it gets worse. Like in Greenland, these lakes—called “superglacial” lakes—drain down into the floating parts of the glacier, which weakens the glacier to the point that it breaks down and falls apart.
The concern is understandable. This is the first time researchers see this kind of phenomena happen in East Antarctica.
Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist, told the Washington Post that East Antarctica has always been the part of the continent that people assumed was “relatively stable.”
“There’s not a huge amount of change, it’s very, very cold, and so, it’s only very recently that the first supraglacial lakes, on top of the ice, were identified,” Jamieson said.
The appearance of these lakes creates a kind of environmental vicious circle. The appearance of these warm lakes is speeding up the process of the glaciers breaking apart and melting away.
When the blue lakes disappear and make their way into the sea, the sudden combination of salty water and fresh water can create catastrophic conditions
This combination is the perfect breeding ground for tornado-like underflow patterns that only speed up the process of the glaciers breaking apart and melting away. But why exactly are these blue lakes showing up and what does it mean for the future of the rest of the world?
The researchers found that the main reason for the appearance of these lakes was the air temperature. These lakes formed when the temperature rose above the freezing point.
How common was this occurrence? Between 2012 and 2013 alone, Antarctica’s air temperature saw 37 days above the freezing point.
When ice shelves break apart and melt into the ocean, it contributes to the rate of the global sea rise. According to National Geographic, rising sea levels are linked to a number of natural disasters.
When seawater reaches inland, it can affect a number of ecosystems, including the habitat of human beings. Rising sea levels can cause erosion, flooding and agricultural soil contamination. Does this mean we should worry about the blue lakes in Antarctica?
Stewart Jamieson, who was also one of the authors in the study, said that the size of the lakes is not enough to create visible effects….yet.
“If climate warming continues in the future, we can only expect the size and number of these lakes to increase. So that’s what we’re looking at,” he told the Washington Post.
The continent is facing a troubling time. Recently, NASA’s own study revealed that Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf will disintegrate before the end of the decade.
Ice shelves act as the gates between glaciers and the ocean. When they disappear, the amount of glacial ice that enters the ocean increases quickly. This contributes to the already troubling rising sea levels.