Antarctica has seen snowfall increase by 10% over the course of the past 200 years. Although you may believe this should be good news, compensating for the loss of the melting ice, this is not the case.
During a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in April 2018 in Vienna, a team led by the British Antarctic Society presented their works on the subject. They described how the analysis of 79 ice cores gathered from the Antarctic shows a 10% increase in snowfall over the past 200 years. To put this into perspective, that is a 272 gigatonne increase, which is double the volume of the Dead Sea. This is the quantity of water you would need to bury the entirety of New Zealand under a meter of snow. But why is this not good news? Because this adds frozen water to the quantity of ice that is already slowly but surely sliding from Antarctica towards the ocean.
So why is this happening? A warmer atmosphere has more humidity, which leads to an increase in snowfall in Antarctica: this is one of the known effects of climate change. But scientists previously did not know whether this snowfall on the Antarctic would reduce its role in rising sea levels or not. Unfortunately, this latest study suggests that it is probably not the case. More snow means even more rapidly rising sea levels.
According to recent research, the increasing quantity of snow building up on Antarctic ice creates added pressure, which speeds up the rate at which ice is moving towards the ocean. “It is complex and challenging for scientists to fully understand and interpret changes in the ice that we see happening today,” explains Liz Thomas, the main author of the study, in a communication to the press. “We know that the two major influences affecting change – the mass gain (from snowfall) and the mass loss (from melt) – are acting differently from one another. Our new findings take us a step towards improving our knowledge and understanding.”