As glaciers from Greenland to Kilimanjaro recede at record rates, the central ice cap of Antarctica has steadily grown for the past 11 years, partially offsetting rising seas due to the melt waters of global warming, researchers said Thursday.
The vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet - a 2-mile-thick wasteland of ice larger than Australia, drier than the Sahara and as cold as a Martian spring - increased in mass every year between 1992 and 2003 due to additional annual snowfall, an analysis of satellite radar measurements showed.
"It is an effect that has been predicted as a likely result of climate change," said David Vaughan, an independent expert on the ice sheets at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England.
In a region known for the lowest temperatures recorded on Earth, it normally is too cold to snow across the 2.7 million squares miles of the ice sheet. Any additional annual snowfall in East Antarctica, therefore, is almost certainly due to warmer temperatures, four experts on Antarctica said.
"As the atmosphere warms, it should hold more moisture," said climatologist Joseph R. McConnell at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., who helped conduct the study. "In East Antarctica, that means there should be more snowfall."
The additional snowfall is enough to account for an extra 45 billion tons of water added to the ice sheet every year, just about equal to the annual amount of water flowing into the ocean from the melting Greenland ice cap, the scientists reported in research published online Thursday by the journal Science.