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Scientists raise concerns as world's most powerful water current accelerates — and consequences could be disastrous

This massive geological feature has implications for our world's climate.

This massive geological feature has implications for our world's climate.

Photo Credit: iStock

A critical Antarctic current is speeding up as the Earth warms, bringing consequences to our planet.

What's happening?

A current that carries more than 100 times the volume of water flowing in all the world's rivers combined is getting faster. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is deep, stretching from the bottom of the ocean to its surface. It is also wide, in places more than 1,200 miles across. This massive geological feature has implications for our world's climate. 

A report published in the journal Nature said this current slows down when Earth's temperatures cool and speeds up when temperatures warm. The warm periods and faster currents that accompany them lead to extensive ice loss in Antarctica. 

"These findings provide geological evidence in support of further increasing ACC flow with continued global warming," an international research team concluded in a report SciTechDaily detailed. "If true, a future increase in ACC flow with warming climate would mark a continuation of the pattern observed in instrumental records, with likely negative consequences."

Why is a faster current concerning?

The study "implies that the retreat or collapse of Antarctic ice is mechanistically linked to enhanced ACC flow, a scenario we are observing today under global warming," according to Gisela Winckler, a geochemist at Columbia University's Lamon-Doherty Earth Observatory and study co-author.

The loss of Antarctica's ice is attributed to an increase in heat flowing south. The stronger current allows warmer water at deep levels to come into contact with Antarctica's ice-shelf edge. The study suggests that the resulting ice retreat will likely continue, which could diminish the ocean's ability to absorb some of the atmosphere's carbon. 

Carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, a toxic gas that is increasing in our atmosphere — largely because of human activities such as burning oil, coal, and gas — and overheating the planet. As the Earth continues to warm, extreme weather events are becoming ever-more frequent, causing harm to communities and ecosystems worldwide. 

Another negative consequence of a faster current is sea-level rise. Sea levels have risen by about 2.5 inches since May 2002, per NASA. A rise in sea level causes increased coastal flooding and could eventually inundate some coastal communities.

What's being done about the loss of Antarctica's ice?

Scientists have devised some seemingly strange proposals to stop the loss of ice, including building giant underwater curtains and placing them in front of ice sheets to stop their erosion from warm water, as the Guardian reported.

Societal changes are critical. Limiting additional warming of our world by reducing the toxic gases being released into the atmosphere that blankets Earth is necessary to save Antarctica's ice. The way we live can influence that. Everything from how we use electricity, gas, and water to how we choose the products, we buy can have a positive impact.

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