NASA and University of Colorado scientists have discovered that an area in Antarctica the size of California melted in January 2005, due to unseasonally high temperatures. This incident was the first of its kind ever detected in Western Antarctica.
The melting occurred as far inland as 900 kilometers from the ocean. Maximum air temperatures at the time of the melting were very high, over five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) in one area.
Image credit: NASA/JPL
The image above shows the west Antarctic snowmelt of 2005 in yellow and red
The danger associated with this type of melting is the forming of moulins, a phenemon where the water can penetrate into ice sheets through cracks and then reach the bottom of the ice sheet. This water then lubricates the base of ice sheet at the bedrock level, causing the ice above to move toward the ocean at a much faster rate.
This is one of the scenarios that many climate scientists have feared in relation to global warming as it has the potential to raise sea levels quite dramatically within a relatively short space of time.
While Western Antarctica has been largely unaffected by global warming aside from this incident and NASA says that no further melting had been detected through March 2007, continued monitoring is vital to determine if a long-term trend may be developing.