Don’t blame the air temperature: Sea warming is causing Antarctic glaciers to melt

Ocean warming has been uncovered as the primary cause of melting glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula.

The new study, carried out by scientists from Swansea University and the British Antarctic Survey, will enable researchers to better predict ice loss from this region – which is currently one of the largest contributors to sea-level rise.

Published today in the journal Science, the findings show that glaciers flowing to the coast on the western side of the Peninsula reveal a distinct spatial correlation with ocean temperature patterns. While those in the south retreat rapidly, those in the north show little change.

About 90% of the 674 glaciers in the Peninsula region have retreated since records began – in as recently as the 1940s.

Swansea University team leader Dr Alison Cook said: “Scientists know that ocean warming is affecting large glaciers elsewhere on the continent, but thought that atmospheric temperatures were the primary cause of all glacier changes on the Peninsula.

“We now know that’s not the case.”

melting-glacier

Environmental controls

Cook continues: “The numerous glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula give a key insight as to how environmental factors control ice behaviour on a wide scale. Almost all glaciers on the western side end in the sea, and we’ve been able to monitor changes in their ice fronts using images as far back as the 1940s.

“Glaciers here are extremely diverse and yet the changes in their frontal positions showed a strong regional pattern.”

One of the aims of the study was to understand what was causing these differences, and in particular why glaciers in the north-west of the region showed less retreat than those located further south. Looking at the ocean temperature records has revealed this crucial link.

The scientists looked at ocean temperature measurements around the Peninsula dating back several decades, together with photography and satellite data for all 674 glaciers.

A strong pattern was determined between ocean temperatures and the north-south gradient of increasing glacier retreat: water is cold in the north-west and becomes increasingly warmer at depths below 100m further south.

Importantly, the research found that the warm water at mid-depths in the southerly region has been warming since the 1990s, at the same time as the acceleration in glacier retreat.

ice

Retreating glaciers

“These new findings demonstrate for the first time that the ocean plays a major role in controlling the stability of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula,” co-author Professor Mike Meredith from the British Antarctic Survey adds.

“Where mid-depth waters from the deep ocean intrude onto the continental shelf and spread towards the coast, they bring heat that causes the glaciers to break up and melt. These waters have become warmer and moved the shallower depths in recent decades, causing glacier retreat to accelerate.”

A third author, Swansea’s Professor Tavi Murray, concludes: “The glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are rapidly changing – almost all of the Peninsula’s glaciers have retreated since the 1940s. We have known the region is a climate warming hotspot for a while, but we couldn’t explain what was causing the pattern of glacier change.

“This new study shows that a warmer ocean is the key to understanding the behaviour of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula. Currently the Peninsula makes one of the largest contributions to sea-level rise, which means understanding this link will improve predications of sea-level rise.”

US wants to use the Moon as a petrol station

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has said that the Trump administration aims to turn the Moon into a petrol station, which will allow for the exploration of deeper parts of the solar system. According to Ross, explorers would use ice from the moon's craters to refuel on the way to other destinations.

SpaceX’s first broadband satellites are now in space

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed the company's first broadband satellites – named Tintin A and Tintin B – have been deployed and are now "communicating to Earth stations". The satellites are being used to test SpaceX's future Starlink broadband service, which aims to provide gigabit broadband worldwide.

Source: Ars Technica

Nissan to trial self-driving taxis in Japan

Nissan and Japanese tech giant DeNA have announced field tests of Easy Ride, the self-driving taxi service they developed together, will begin on March 5 in Yokohama, Japan. The cars will take passengers along a 4.5km route between the Yokohama World Porters shopping centre and Nissan’s corporate complex.

Source: Tech Crunch

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Source: BBC

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Millions of dollars in Ethereum are vulnerable to hackers

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Source: Motherboard

Stronger in old age: Stem cell research paves way for muscle-building medication

It could in the future be possible to take medication that will allow you to build muscle, even when you are in old age.

This is due to the findings of research at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, which found that large, and wholly unexpected, amounts of mutations in muscle stem cells blocks their ability to regenerate cells.

“What is most surprising is the high number of mutations. We have seen how a healthy 70-year-old has accumulated more than 1,000 mutations in each stem cell in the muscle, and that these mutations are not random but there are certain regions that are better protected,” said Maria Eriksson, professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet.

With this knowledge, researchers could develop therapies that would encourage such regeneration, and so allow older people to rebuild lost muscle.

“We can demonstrate that this protection diminishes the older you become, indicating an impairment in the cell’s capacity to repair their DNA. And this is something we should be able to influence with new drugs,” explained Eriksson.

The landmark research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, involved the use of single stem cells, which were cultivated to provide enough DNA for whole genome sequencing – a medical first for this part of the body.

“We achieved this in the skeletal muscle tissue, which is absolutely unique. We have also found that there is very little overlap of mutations, despite the cells being located close to each other, representing an extremely complex mutational burden,” said study first author Irene Franco, a postdoc in Eriksson’s research group.

While a significant step, the research is now being expanded to look at whether exercise affects the number of mutations – a potentially vital factor in understand why and how these mutations occur.

“We aim to discover whether it is possible to individually influence the burden of mutations. Our results may be beneficial for the development of exercise programmes, particularly those designed for an ageing population,” said Eriksson.

The research is one of a host of projects being conducted across the world that have potential impacts on ageing, an area that was long ignored by much of the scientific community, but is now garnering increased support.

If many – or even a fair minority – of these findings eventually become the basis of therapeutics, it could be transformative for old age in the future, allowing people to remain healthier for far later in life and potentially even leading to longer life expectancies.