Soot Deposits from Tourists and Researchers May Be Accelerating Snow Melt in Antarctica
A new study from a coalition of researchers at several universities suggests that human activities in Antarctica are leading to the accumulation of soot throughout the continent, causing snow to melt at unprecedented rates.
Researchers collected 155 snow samples at 28 unique sites along a 1,200 mile stretch of Antarctica, finding that samples taken near areas with increased human traffic were contaminated with elevated levels of soot.
Soot, also called “black carbon,” is a byproduct of combusting fossil fuels. In Antarctica, it primarily comes from the tens of thousands of tourists and researchers who visit the continent each year.
The study found the cumulative impact of cruise ships, vehicles, airplanes, and electrical generators has shifted the continent’s equilibrium.
Untouched snow will naturally reflect incoming solar radiation, but when contaminated with deposits of soot, the surface loses its reflectivity while simultaneously absorbing more heat.
According to the researchers, the combination is estimated to contribute to the melting of 83 tons of snow in Antarctica each summer.
Attempting to put a figure to how much a visitor might contribute to the melting, the team found the average researcher in particular regions of Antarctica could accelerate melting of between 300 and 900 tons of snow each season.
Something has to change:
The researchers say that unless the vessels used to transport tourists and researchers to Antarctica are electrified or limited altogether, snow will continue to melt at rapid rates, potentially contributing to environmental issues like rising sea-levels and global warming.