A plethora of visually striking blue lakes have popped up on East Antarctica’s Langhovde Glacier. More precisely, 8,000 of these azure ponds have emerged between the year 2000 and 2013. This, unfortunately, is anything but good news.
As a new satellite-based study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters points out, these lakes are appearing on what was considered to be a particularly cold segment of the world’s cryosphere, one that until now has largely resisted the inexorable march of man-made climate change.
“That’s the part of the continent where people have for quite a long time assumed that it’s 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,” Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at Durham University and one of the study’s authors, told the Washington Post.
These lakes appeared every time the air temperature rose above freezing point. In the summer of 2012-2013, 37 days featured temperatures above this mark, and consequently, this is when most of these meltwater lakes appeared. Water absorbs more heat and retains it for long periods of time, so when they do appear, they act as effective heat sinks for the ice – and more heat sinks will result in more melting.
The Antarctic, particularly its eastern realm, has been unusually buffered against the accelerating pace of man-made climate change compared to its Arctic counterpart thanks to a series of natural flukes. These meltwater lakes may mean that East Antarctic’s reputation as an unusual bastion against global warming is about to come to an end.
Supraglacial lakes seen on the Greenland Ice Sheet. NASA