How Warm Rivers in Antarctica Could Affect Chile

Warm river underneath the ice of Antarctica are increasing year after year due to climate change. They now threaten the entire Antarctica ecosystem. Chile could get affected in different ways if Antarctica’s ice melts.

Global temperature rise has created warm rivers that run underneath the ice of Antarctica. They slither through cracks, widening them and thus accelerate the destruction of the ice blocks, , according to a paper in the journal Science Advances.

These streams can develop underneath the surface into upside-down rivers. This way they soften the blocks’ foundations and speed up break-away process. Researchers observed the ice platforms’ behavior for 15 years, with the help of the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), a scientific instrument  NASA put in orbit in 1999. MODIS orbits the Earth in north-south direction and gathers climate data information regularly.

Researchers use this database to observe global dynamics and processes in land, oceans, and the lower atmosphere. According to NASA, this instrument is key to predict changes and react to the development of global climate phenomena. 

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What Happens if Antarctica Melts?

Warm rivers have a cause-consequence character. They are a consequence of melting and heating, and the cause for the destruction of the remaining ice platforms. And while Antarctica’s permafrost has endured for centuries, it cannot withstand global warming. Ice shelves are disintegrating within months or even weeks.

According to NASA, Antarctica has been losing around 100km3 of ice since 2002, making the ecosystem’s collapse a possibility.

In this case, Chile faces direct dangers due to its closeness to the continent. 

  • Thermal expansion: The rise in temperature warms the ocean and makes water expand. This means that the sea levels can rise due to the oceans occupying more space than usual. If global warming doesn’t stop, The Atlantic predicts a sea-level rise of 8m by 2300, while Time warns about a total rise of 73m if Antarctica melts completely. For a country close to Antarctica with a remarkably long coast, this can cause dangers for Chile. 
  • Humboldt current alterations: The Humboldt Current in the Pacific Ocean extends from the South Pole up to Peru, and sustains large swathes of South American sea life, as well as influencing continental climate. With the ice melting in Antarctica, this current will lose its cold water resources. The current could change its temperature, which will affect the sustainability of underwater habitats. With its influence on climate phenomena in South-America, colder temperatures and rains are more likely to occur.

Chile is working to sustain the Antarctic ice. During the recently held IX Chilean Congress of Antarctic Investigations, 107 projects were mentioned. A bill to strengthen Chilean presence and conservation efforts in Antarctica was approved by the Special Commission for Extreme Zones and Special Territories last Monday.

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