Study Finds Ocean Currents are Primary Cause of Antarctic Peninsula Glacial Melting

British Antarctic Survey

A new study has found for the first time that ocean warming is the primary cause of retreat of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise and this new finding will enable researchers to make better predictions of ice loss from this region.


Icebergs calved off from the glaciers in Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula.
Credit: Alison Cook

A new study has found for the first time that ocean warming is the primary cause of retreat of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise and this new finding will enable researchers to make better predictions of ice loss from this region.

The research, by scientists at Swansea University and British Antarctic Survey, is published in the journal Science today (Friday, July 15). The study reports that glaciers flowing to the coast on the western side of the Peninsula show a distinct spatial correlation with ocean temperature patterns, with those in the south retreating rapidly but those in the north showing little change. Some 90% of the 674 glaciers in this region have retreated since records began in the 1940s.

Dr Alison Cook, who led the work at Swansea University, says: “Scientists know that ocean warming is affecting large glaciers elsewhere on the continent, but thought that atmospheric temperatures were the primary cause of all glacier changes on the Peninsula. We now know that’s not the case.

“The numerous glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula give a key insight as to how environmental factors control ice behaviour on a wide scale. Almost all glaciers on the western side end in the sea, and we’ve been able to monitor changes in their ice fronts using images as far back as the 1940s. Glaciers here are extremely diverse and yet the changes in their frontal positions showed a strong regional pattern.

“We were keen to understand what was causing the differences, in particular why the glaciers in the north-west showed less retreat than those further South and why there was acceleration in retreat since the 1990s. The ocean temperature records have revealed the crucial link.”

The team studied ocean temperature measurements around the Peninsula stretching back several decades, alongside photography and satellite data of the 674 glaciers.

The north-south gradient of increasing glacier retreat was found to show a strong pattern with ocean temperatures, whereby water is cold in the north-west, and becomes progressively warmer at depths below 100m further south. Importantly, the warm water at mid-depths in the southerly region has been warming since as long ago as the 1990s, at the same time as the widespread acceleration in glacier retreat.

Co-author Professor Mike Meredith at British Antarctic Survey says: “These new findings demonstrate for the first time that the ocean plays a major role in controlling the stability of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula.

“Where mid-depth waters from the deep ocean intrude onto the continental shelf and spread towards the coast, they bring heat that causes the glaciers to break up and melt. These waters have become warmer and moved to shallower depths in recent decades, causing glacier retreat to accelerate.”

Co-author Professor Tavi Murray, who leads the Glaciology Research Group at Swansea University, says: “The glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are changing rapidly — almost all of the Peninsula’s glaciers have retreated since the 1940s. We have known the region is a climate warming hotspot for a while, but we couldn’t explain what was causing the pattern of glacier change.

“This new study shows that a warmer ocean is the key to understanding the behaviour of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula. Currently the Peninsula makes one of the largest contributions to sea-level rise, which means understanding this link will improve predications of sea-level rise.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by British Antarctic Survey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

A. J. Cook, P. R. Holland, M. P. Meredith, T. Murray, A. Luckman, D. G. Vaughan. Ocean forcing of glacier retreat in the western Antarctic Peninsula. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0017

Cite This Page:


British Antarctic Survey. “Ocean warming primary cause of Antarctic Peninsula glacier retreat.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2016. <>.


Earth & Climate
Global Warming
Ice Ages
Snow and Avalanches

Larsen Ice Shelf
Global warming
Ice sheet
Sea level
Greenland ice sheet
Recommended Articles

Antarctic Peninsula Glaciers In Widespread Retreat
British Antarctic Survey, ScienceDaily, 2005
First comprehensive review of the state of Antarctica’s climate
British Antarctic Survey, ScienceDaily, 2009
Huge Iceberg Breaks Away, Antarctic Ice Shelf ‘Hangs By A Thread’
British Antarctic Survey, ScienceDaily, 2008
Thinning Of Greenland Glacier Attributed To Ocean Warming Preceded By Atmospheric Changes
New York University, ScienceDaily, 2008
Antarctica: Heat comes from the deep
Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR), ScienceDaily, 2014

Could global warming push malaria to higher elevations
Marie Ellis, Medical News Today, 2014
Hunt For New Antibiotics Turns To Deep Sea Trenches
Catharine Paddock PhD, Medical News Today, 2013
Climate Change Means More Kidney Stones Say Scientists
Catharine Paddock PhD, Medical News Today, 2008
Ocean bacteria deliver food parcels to marine organisms
Catharine Paddock PhD, Medical News Today, 2014
Link Found Between Cholera Outbreaks And Rise Of River Flow
Medical News Today, 2011

Powered by TrendMD

Related Stories

Sudden Onset of Ice Loss in Antarctica So Large It Affects Earth’s Gravity Field
May 21, 2015 — Scientists have observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The ice loss in the region is so large that it causes small changes in the gravity field of the … read more
Glaciers in Northern Antarctic Peninsula Melting Faster Than Ever Despite Increased Snowfall
Sep. 14, 2014 — Increased snowfall will not prevent the continued melting of glaciers in the northern Antarctic Peninsula, according to new research. Scientists have discovered that small glaciers that end on land … read more
New Insight Into Accelerating Summer Ice Melt on the Antarctic Peninsula
Apr. 14, 2013 — A new 1,000-year Antarctic Peninsula climate reconstruction shows that summer ice melting has intensified almost 10-fold, and mostly since the mid-20th century. Summer ice melt affects the stability … read more
New Climate History Adds to Understanding of Recent Antarctic Peninsula Warming
Aug. 22, 2012 — A recent study adds a new dimension to our understanding of Antarctic Peninsula climate change and the likely causes of the break-up of its ice … read more
Strange & Offbeat

Soot May Have Killed Off the Dinosaurs and Ammonites
Cougars Could Save Lives by Lowering Vehicle Collisions With Deer
Newborn Ducklings Can Acquire Notions of ‘Same’ and ‘Different’
Bacteria Avoid Age Defects Through Collective Behavior
If Life Can Make It Here, It Can Make It Anywhere
Lush Venus? Searing Earth? It Could Have Happened
Ostrich Relative Lived in North America About 50 Million Years Ago
In Times of Great Famine, Microalgae Digest Themselves
Terrified Insect Escapes a Permanent Tomb — 50 Million Years Ago
Monkeys in Brazil ‘Have Used Stone Tools for Hundreds of Years at Least’
Bird Research Suggests Calling Dinosaurs May Have Been Tight-Lipped
Robot Helps Study How First Land Animals Moved 360 Million Years Ago



Please follow and like us:

One thought on “Study Finds Ocean Currents are Primary Cause of Antarctic Peninsula Glacial Melting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *