Washington: Scientists at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences believe that the climate phenomenon El Nino may be causing ice at the South Pole to melt.
The year-by-year change in the ice mass covering Antarctica are mainly attributable to fluctuations in precipitation, which are controlled significantly by El Nino.
For some glaciers the ice thickness is decreasing rapidly, and glaciers and ice streams are notably retreating back into the interior. With 0.3 millimetres per year, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sector of West Antarctica are currently contributing considerably to the global sea level change of about three millimetres per year.
The team examined the GFZ data of the German-American satellite mission GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment).
"With the GRACE time series, it was for the first time possible to observe how the large-scale ice mass varies in the two areas due to fluctuations in rainfall from year to year," said the GFZ scientists Ingo Sasgen.
“El Nino years with their warm phase lead to reduced rainfall and mass loss in the Antarctic Peninsula, and an increase in the Amundsen Sectorfield, respectively," explained Professor Maik Thomas, head of the section "Earth System Modelling" at the German Research Centre for Geosciences.
In principle, the study could show that the continuous gravity data of the GRACE satellite mission contain another important medium-term climate signal.