Stemming ice loss, giant atmospheric rivers add mass to Antarctica's ice sheet

Extreme weather phenomena called atmospheric rivers were behind intense snowstorms recorded in 2009 and 2011 in East Antarctica. The resulting snow accumulation partly offset recent ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet, report researchers from KU Leuven.

L indicates the atmospheric river's low-pressure trough and H indicates the blocking high-pressure ridge further downstream, directing moisture transport (red arrows) into the Dronning Maud Land and the Princess Elisabeth base (white square). The colours show total moisture amounts (in centimetres equivalent of water). Credit: Irina Gorodetskaya

The “L” indicates the atmospheric river’s low-pressure trough and “H” indicates the blocking high-pressure ridge further downstream, directing moisture transport (red arrows) into the Dronning Maud Land and the Princess Elisabeth base (white square). The colours show total moisture amounts (in centimetres equivalent of water). Credit: Irina Gorodetskaya

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow water vapour plumes stretching thousands of kilometres across the sky over vast ocean areas. They are capable of rapidly transporting large amounts of moisture around the globe and can cause devastating precipitation when they hit coastal areas.

Although atmospheric rivers are notorious for their flood-inducing impact in Europe and the Americas, their importance for Earth’s polar climate – and for global sea levels – is only now coming to light.

In this study, an international team of researchers led by Irina Gorodetskaya of KU Leuven’s Regional Climate Studies research group used a combination of advanced modelling techniques and data collected at Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth polar research station in East Antarctica’s Dronning Maud Land to produce the first ever in-depth look at how atmospheric rivers affect precipitation in Antarctica.

The researchers studied two particular instances of heavy snowfall in the East Antarctic region in detail, one in May 2009 and another in February 2011, and found that both were caused by atmospheric rivers slamming into the East Antarctic coast.

The Princess Elisabeth polar research station recorded snow accumulation equivalent to up to 5 centimetres of water for each of these weather events, good for 22 per cent of the total annual snow accumulation in those years.

The findings point to atmospheric rivers’ impressive snow-producing power. “When we looked at all the extreme weather events that took place during 2009 and 2011, we found that the nine atmospheric rivers that hit East Antarctica in those years accounted for 80 per cent of the exceptional snow accumulation at Princess Elisabeth station,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.

And this can have important consequences for Antarctica’s diminishing ice sheet. “There is a need to understand how the flow of ice within Antarctica’s ice sheet responds to warming and gain insight in atmospheric processes, cloud formation and snowfall,” adds Nicole Van Lipzig, co-author of the study and professor of geography at KU Leuven.

A separate study found that the Antarctic ice sheet has lost substantial mass in the last two decades – at an average rate of about 68 gigatons per year during the period 1992-2011.

“The unusually high snow accumulation in Dronning Maud Land in 2009 that we attributed to atmospheric rivers added around 200 gigatons of mass to Antarctica, which alone offset 15 per cent of the recent 20-year ice sheet mass loss,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.

“This study represents a significant advance in our understanding of how the global water cycle is affected by atmospheric rivers. It is the first to look at the effect of atmospheric rivers on Antarctica and to explore their role in cryospheric processes of importance to the global sea level in a changing climate,” says Martin Ralph, contributor to the study and Director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California, San Diego.

“Moving forward, we aim to explore the impact of atmospheric rivers on precipitation in all Antarctic coastal areas using data records covering the longest possible time period. We want to determine exactly how this phenomenon fits into climate models,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.

“Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects. On the contrary, they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses. Thus, our understanding of climate change and its worldwide impact will strongly depend on climate models’ ability to capture extreme weather events, such as atmospheric rivers and the resulting anomalies in precipitation and temperature,” she concludes.

###

The study, “The role of atmospheric rivers in anomalous snow accumulation in East Antarctica”, was published recently in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters. Co-authors are Nicole Van Lipzig (Regional Climate Studies research group, KU Leuven), Kim Claes (KU Leuven graduate student), Maria Tsukernik (Brown University), Martin Ralph (University of California San Diego) and William Neff (University of Colorado Boulder).

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179 thoughts on “Stemming ice loss, giant atmospheric rivers add mass to Antarctica's ice sheet

      • added around 200 gigatons of mass to Antarctica, which alone offset 15 per cent of the recent 20-year ice sheet mass loss,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.
        But there results are from several years ago. How can this analysis suddenly offset the ice loss? If the ice loos is properly measured, then this contribution would already be automatically included.
        Or is that mass loss just modeled? And this presents a corrections. What are these guys actualy saying?

      • “they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses.” Not to mention weather, and seasonal, annual, and decadal climate variability, which brings us to the current state of a colder than average Arctic and warmer than average Antarctic:
        http://cci-reanalyzer.org/DailySummary/#

    • Roy (Dr. Roy)
      My unabridged edition of OED gives ” WIND ” as a synonym for “atmospheric rivers.”
      G

      • Jet stream(s).
        They’ve been around………..forever and well known in meteorology for?
        Next, someone can think up a really cool name for that special snow that only falls because of an atmospheric river.

    • Yep. Like so much that has to do with catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. “Social cost of carbon”, “carbon neutral”, “carbon pollution”, etc. These terms all need to be removed from any dictionary they’ve wormed their way into.

    • Contrived is the word, Roy. But, good for press releases. Note that “they can cause devastating precipitation when they hit coastal areas”, so here is another reason to wring our poor, overwrought hands.

    • Do AOGCM’s have the resolution needed to properly model “atmospheric rivers”? Suppose 20% (a guess) of the rainfall in semi-arid places like California arrives via atmospheric rivers that models are incapable of representing. Under these conditions, projections of future changes in precipitation would be even more dubious than they already are. The same thing applies to projections of ice cap loss.

    • Maybe a month ago there was a stream of water coming out of the gulf that ran up to about Indiana on surface radar, looked to be less than 50-100 miles wide, and near a thousand miles long, very weird looking, to me it looked like a stream of water from a fire hose.

      • We get that a couple of times every winter.
        We call it “the Pineapple Express” and it does indeed look like
        a gigantic stream of water from a fire hose, aimed from Hawai’i
        to Vancouver. There is not generally a lot of wind, but there sure is
        a lot of water. In the summer we drink it and use it for hydro power.
        — Bad News

    • Indeed and their disclaimer at the end of the press release is truly pathetic. The late Marcel Leroux explained -see Dynamic Analysis of Weather and Climate, Springer 2010- that in Antarctica since the 1970s, the frequency of depressions has increased and that these are also getting deeper as a result of stronger catabatic winds and expulsions of more, stronger MPHs.
      So warm air advection along the reliefs of the Peninsula creates a regional rise in temperature but also brings back more moisture to the pole. This acceleration of atmospheric circulation contradicts CAGW.

      • Could have read, “Atmospheric, river like, Jet stream-like torrents, mimicking and blasting the South Pole like the Eastern USA polar vortex of the cataclysmic winter of 2014 during the Warmest Year Evaaah.

    • Wouldn’t it be more like the training effect we get here in Florida when a low pressure off the coast continually streams rain over a narrow area?

      • @Tom in Florida, that is what happens with the Pineapple express, it sends a as you called a “train” of moisture from Hawaii Island area into the general direction of the west coast from Oregon to BC Canada and can bring large amounts of moisture and unseasonable warm air in the winter months. On the East side of the Rockeys they can in a very short time bring on strong “Chinook” winds with large increases of temperatures, rainfall on top of snow packs (avalanche danger is very high), cause flooding and fast melting of snow etc. It is pretty much a part of any winter here and we just live with it (and prepare for it). At times with the right conditions if it clashes with an Arctic cold front it can also bring heavy snow fall as we had here in BC in early Jan. about 45 (18″) cm. in 36 hrs.

    • “atmospheric rivers”
      =========
      nothing new. I called them “feeder troughs” during our sailing days in the south pacific. long before climate change was invented. A long line of low pressure, typically 1000 miles or more in length, with high winds leading into a deeper low. common around the Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia area. they were a bitch to sail across, but it was a much bigger mistake to run before them.

  1. I keep mixing up Antarctic ice sheet with Antarctic sea ice. So, while the sea ice is at all time record highs, the ice sheet is shrinking at 68 gigatons per year. That is interesting. I wonder what sort of method they used to come up with the 68 gigatons per year. I seem to remeber reading an article about this here on WUWT, anyone have the link?

    • I’m puzzled by how they know what was happening in 1992, Jeff. Supposedly we have only just had “accurate” measurements in the last year or so. (And even they are only guesstimates).
      Even 20 years is not long enough to identify real trends. For instance, we know how rainfall elsewhere goes in cycles with the oceans.

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen…
    The “Show why Antarctic expansion is caused by global warming” contest is in full swing!
    The heats are over, and the contestants who successfully talked the back leg off a donkey, now move forward to the semi-finals.
    So … step forward the Belgian team, with their snappy performance entitled “Atmospheric rivers .. it snowed a lot in 2009 and 2011 but but but but its still shrinking!!!”

  3. A river is just liquid water seeking the easiest path to get downhill. Earth’s atmosphere is way more complex than that.
    But if they want to call it an “atmospheric river”, oh well… I’ll give them some artistic license.

    • air flows much like water, we just aren’t aware because we can’t see it. the rule of thumb sailing is that air will travel 100 miles laterally to avoid a 1 mile rise.

  4. What no mention of polar bears?
    “Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects”
    This blatant sycophancy to global warming in conclusions is incredibly annoying. Yes it is NOT evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small, it is actually NOT evidence of it being large, small or medium. It is evidence of nothing having to do with forecasting global warming or global climate. It is simply observation of antarctic snow and ice behavior with a bow of obedience and tithe to the GW oligarchy.
    Speaking of polar bears, it is interesting that tigers in India were never brought up in GW propaganda since their population was severely affected in a similar period as polar bears. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to spin a species is dying out due to warming when they thrive in warm weather. Anyways the tigers are on a strong rebound after poaching, lack of prey, habitat destruction and conflict with villagers caused a decline. Simply stunningly beautiful animals that are on a rebound due to sensible government action, which fortunately was immune to GW nonsense and influence.

    • actually it is not evidence at all period, but I think you said that.
      Good on the tigers, but don’t give these jerks any ideas – they’ll get the spin out ahead of the data and alarm the peoples again.

    • “Maybe it’s because it’s hard to spin a species is dying out due to warming when they thrive in warm weather.”
      Actually tigers do quite well in Siberia where winters are about -40. And remember that there were lions in Alaska during the last ice age.
      Rule one for biogeographers: Never ever assume that the current distribution of an animal or plant is either natural or climate-limited unless there is actual evidence for it.

  5. Have they anything to say about the existence (or non-existence) of such “rivers” (i.e., winds) in the past, before we entered this new and amazing period of “Extreme Weather” (brought to us by the Weather Channel and friends).

    • As soon as W. Blitzer created “The Situation Room” (CNN), we had to have situations.
      What an odd word, too. Places. I suppose that must be geopolitcially correct. Glad I don’t have boob tube.

    • The winter of 1996/97 was the last time that a large “skyriver” hit the west coast. That storm was a direct hit into California with rain that made one think of the phrase, biblical proportions. If there had been a touch more power in that system, then the consequences could have been catastrophic to Northern California. Everything down to and through Sacramento, would have been in grave danger. The entire SF/Bay Area region could have been severely affected. Prior to that the other major events were 1964/65 the big one, 1954/55 heavy, 1945/46 weak, and on back to the teens where the 9 year pattern appears to break up and switch to around 11 to 12 years. The 1970s was the first break from the 9 year cycle. It should have been an extra wet year in 1973/74. Instead the last California drought set in. The years 1984, 1996 and 2008 were the extra wet years with 1996 being the biggest. Now here it is drought once again for the last 3+ years. Is this going to signal a shift that will see the return of the 9 year flood cycle as part of an overall shift in the regional pattern? If so, then there should be a West Coast flood in the next 2 years. Interesting how the droughts may be punctuating phase changes in regional climate of the west coast.

      • “Interesting how the droughts may be punctuating phase changes in regional climate of the west coast.”
        Out east, storms track the jet stream, and I think the PDO moves where it hits the west coast from California to up in ~Washington and back, maybe there’s more to it on a shorter cycle.

      • You left out the flood of 1961 when the rain didn’t stop. One third of California was underwater from El Centro to north of Sacramento.

        • That shows my bias. I have always thought of California as being the area north of San Francisco, where I grew up. I have heard of the flood you speak of. Any part of California has the potential for these types of events. I will look for a regional climate map for the southern part of the state. I wonder if there is any local patterns that might show up. This 9 year flood event is more of a coastal hit then the El Centro flood. I,ll look it up. Thanks for mentioning it.

    • the rivers existed long before global extreme weather warming. years ago a tropical cyclone bounced off Fiji and came through Tonga. A narrow trough off the low extended northward, and when it passed over Samoa almost 2 days after the main cyclone body had passed, the trough funneled down through the harbor in Pago Pago with such force it tore the spreaders out of the sail boats. Which is quite something, as the harbor itself is an ideal hurricane hole.

  6. Geologists know that “extreme” geological events, especially the very extreme but very rare ones, are the ones that we see preserved in the geological record. Minor, everyday events get washed away with the ordinary passage of time. Only the strongest have the force to change the surface and the power to overcome the everyday processes that repair those changes. This is not the catastrophist theory of old, but the outcome of common-sense understanding of force and power.
    Climatologists are coming from a steady-state understanding of the world geologists (reluctantly) came to in the mid-1800s. It is telling that the geological community was fighting the Christian view of God creating a set piece that only God could modify to a significant extent. The current climatological view as seen in the IPCC reports is a religious view of a world in natural stasis unless provoked by Man. Extreme but irregular events that created the MWP, the LIA and the post-1965 warming are not part of their belief system.
    It is no wonder that geologists are the bete noires of the Warmist communities. We’ve learned our lesson, risen above our mistake, advanced 150 years from where they are.

    • Further to this idea of punctuated equilibrium, most of the time represented in sedimentary layers consists of the boundaries between layers.
      Just as the climate should be viewed. Long yawns punctuated by tremendous expenditures of energy.

    • Another reason that the “Warmists communities” hate geologists is that we think in terms of natural processes and can decipher ma nature, and this faculty of thought will throw them every time.

    • Trouble is, so many “environmental geologists” have entered geological schools and we know what they think about climate.

    • Doug
      Can you explain, to a non-geologist, the banding in rock strata with 22 kyr spacing corresponding to the orbital precession cycle. This is a conspicuous feature visible to the naked eye in many strata such that it is used to help dating. What geological perturbation linked to precession causes these contrasting layers?

    • Tell that to the British Geological Society – The have partaken of the Kool Aid by the gallon (Imperial)

    • I was thinking the same thing. All was going nicely, sciencey and all, then BAM! It looks so out of place it’s not even funny. It’s almost like an editor said “we need to insert this to get published and get attention and get more funding for future studies”.
      What’s worse, guys like John Cook can add this to his pile of “heavily supports AGW” papers.

  7. These are extreme events only because it’s an alarmists term. To be read as “send me more money.”

    • What I wonder about – if the “Science is Settled”, why do they keep funding this crap?
      Does the public require a daily brain bashing to keep in line? Most, that I talk to, are already sufficiently bashed. Well this “news” is too late to get into State of the Onion.

      • if the “Science is Settled”, why do they keep funding this crap?

        Absolutely. Cut the funding, there is nothing left to discover. Anything worthwhile, Al Gore already discovered it. What every hasn’t been discovered can’t exist.
        Since we can’t find anything that caused the warming, it must be CO2. QED (c) IPCC

  8. So, I guess there were no ‘atmospheric rivers’ in the Arctic in the 2000s and now they have returned, because the ice cap decrease has reversed so dramatically.
    My 5 bucks says that we are not going to read about that anytime soon.

  9. “Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects. On the contrary, they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses. Thus, our understanding of climate change and its worldwide impact will strongly depend on climate models’ ability to capture extreme weather events, such as atmospheric rivers and the resulting anomalies in precipitation and temperature,” she concludes.”
    Models again!

    • ‘Earth’s warming climate…’ has nobody told them that it has stopped warming? They need to insert any one of the 52 (I think?) reasons why it isn’t warming but once the ‘Pause’ is over all that extra record-breaking ice will melt.

    • Yes.
      If they perpetuate the alarmism they will be called climate. Otherwise the 1/5th effect will be called weather.

  10. California’s Pineapple express is a well known example of an atmospheric river and its location and angle of attack on the Sierra Nevada and Cascades explains most of the extreme precipitation events in California. I think the concept is a good one, and does a far better job of explaining natural heavy rainfall than Trenberth’s suggesting extremes are caused by a “warmer and wetter world”.

    • Jim, as a weatherman who has studied a bit of snow, can you tell me if the standard of ” an inch of rain equals a foot of snow ” is close to accurate? If so, 5 cm ( 2.54 cm / in ) would be 2″ of rain or equal to 2 foot of snow. I was in Marquette, MI when we got over 2 foot during the May 10, 1990 we got over 22 inches.

      • DD, I use the rule of thumb that an inch of rain equals 10 inches of snow, so we almost agree. But my rule of thumb depends on the quality of snow. Heavy wet snow will hold higher values of water compared to dry powdery snow. Whatever the rule of thumb, 2 foot of snow in one day is a lot of moisture.

  11. Atmospheric rivers are weather events that are constantly transporting tropical moisture convected from the tropical warm pools towards the poles. They are relatively thin bands of moistures and thus have very local effects. The location of those rivers landfall is determined by pressure systems that form over the oceans, so there is likely a seasonal and decadal pattern due to ocean oscillations.

    • How about “atmospheric moisture stream”?
      That has a more appropriate ring to it. But I think that the meteorologists have some say in this. Let’s hear what they have to say. This should be old hat to them.

    • Jim, with all due respect, they are not rivers. Yes if you want to push for more funding by all means call them rivers but rivers they ain’t;
      Jet stream used to be good enough. Or strung weather front.

      • Stephen, I dont think that exact definition of a river is the critical issue. Certainly compared to the Amazon, atmospheric rivers pale in comparison. Nonetheless it has been estimated that “at any given time, an
        average of more than 90% of the total poleward atmospheric water vapor transport through the middle latitudes is concentrated in four to five narrow regions.”
        Envisioning those narrow bands if meridonal moisture transport as rivers, and seen in satellite imagery, is visually useful. And most serious scientists will never confuse the volume of moisture in atmospheric rivers with land based rivers.

    • The snow torrents from atmospheric rivers —- hmmm! Maybe we should help out their prose
      Eugene WR Gallun

      • >And most serious scientists will never confuse the volume of moisture in atmospheric rivers with land based rivers.
        I’m not so sure about that.
        If I assume an air current 100 miles wide, 2 miles thick, moving at 30 MPH, the mass flow is 4.97023E+13
        lbs/hr. If 2% of the mass is water, the flow is water is 9.94046E+11 lbs/hr or about 4,453,000 cu ft/sec.
        For comparison, the Mississippi average flow at New Orleans is 600,000 cu ft/sec. The Amazon is 7,381,000 cu ft/s.

        • “I’m not so sure about that.”
          PLS, thanks for doing this, it confirms what I suspected.
          I did a rough calculation on how much water one of the hurricanes that came up out of the gulf rained out along its way north as about 1/3 the volume of Lake Erie.

  12. PARTLY.. As if it’s melting… maybe it’s that’s warm ocean water melting the ice from underneath. No, that can’t be it. Sea ice is not only at an all time high but is thicker than they thought. This is a mystery. It must be those rivers of air, or maybe volcanoes or it could be the heat hiding in the deep ocean.
    Conjecturing to prove your point on CAGW. Well we didn’t know about the rivers of air that carried water vapor. Really? That’s new? Oh and it confirms global warming. Thankfully, I don’t belong to that organization. An ever enduring question, ‘How do so many supposedly intelligent people become so deluded so easily?” . When does enough regional anomalous create a new paradigm? Or just the same one going forward? They didn’t find the Antarctic in a status quo. Looking at it differently, what would it be doing if AGW weren’t here? Melting? By the way, what happened to all of that latent heat? Were is it? Didn’t the temperature warm as the water vapor was converted to snow? All that back radiation that AGW has been so fervent about causing global warming?

        • ferdberple (replying to Bubba Cow)
          About the only thing not attributed to global warming is beheadings. No doubt that will change in the run-up to Paris.

          Nope. They’ve got you covered there: The CAGW religion believes that Islamic terrorism is caused BY our presence and military and social and economic presence in the MidEast which is caused BY our need for oil which is caused BY our energy policies and economic demands for oil which is causing our (lack of) catastrophic anthropenic global warming the last 18 years and fours months.
          if we did not use any fossil fuels and were enveloped in the hippies’ 100% sustainable economies of early death and horse-drawn carts across mud-filled roads pulling stone plows to feed cold peasants starving each winter in natural fibers huddled around locally-grown wood fires heating locally-drawn water (which last happened sometime in the early 1200 BC’s before the copper and lead and salt mines were first dug out) then we would have no Islamic violence.
          Other than the 700 AD – 1600 AD invasions of Spain, France, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, all of North Africa, all of the East African coasts, all of today’s Mideast, India, Afghanistan, southern Russia, and half of eastern Europe up to the siege lines around Vienna. I mean, if it were not for our capitalistic energy policies and our dependence on the evil fossil fuels, Islamic violence would never have occurred since Mohammend conquered Mecca and Medina in 1400 years ago. ALL terrorism since then has been totally created by our energy policies and the discovery of oil in the MidEast by the colonist British between 1910 and 1920. /sarchasm – the gaping whole between Obama and reality

  13. Okay, so the story goes…
    “It is the first to look at the effect of atmospheric rivers on Antarctica and to explore their role in cryospheric processes ”
    This would clearly imply that it is THE FIRST STUDY of the phenomenon. Obviously it has a name, but they’ve never studied it and it’s effect on Antarctica. But for some reason, they have absolutely no problem declaring from the onset that what they are studying for the first time is:
    A: Unusual.
    B: Caused by AGW…
    “The unusually high snow accumulation in Dronning Maud Land in 2009″
    ” Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses. ”
    How did they come to the conclusion that this is an unusual process? Really? A season with a lot of snow in Antarctica is unusual???
    How long have humans been established in Antarctica? How far back do the snow fall records go for this to be remarkable?

  14. The authors of this appallingly bad paper seem to have been thinking of ‘Camelot’ when they are surprised that things aren’t the same every year (lyrics suitably amended for the southern hemisphere):
    ARTHUR:
    It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear.
    The climate must be perfect all the year.
    A law was made a distant moon ago here:
    January and February cannot be too hot.
    And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
    In Camelot.
    The winter is forbidden till June
    And exits September the second on the dot.
    By order, summer lingers through March
    In Camelot.
    Camelot! Camelot!
    I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
    But in Camelot, Camelot
    That’s how conditions are.
    The rain may never fall till after sundown.
    By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
    In short, there’s simply not
    A more congenial spot
    For happily-ever-aftering than here
    In Camelot.
    Camelot! Camelot!
    I know it gives a person pause,
    But in Camelot, Camelot
    Those are the legal laws.
    The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
    By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
    In short, there’s simply not
    A more congenial spot
    For happily-ever-aftering than here
    In Camelot.

    Up to two feet of snow fell in Antarctica; not once but maybe nine times in 3 years! Who knew? They didn’t in May 2009 because the Princess Elisabeth is a summer only station, manned November to February:
    http://www.antarcticstation.org/

  15. almost as contrived as this….
    ” The resulting snow accumulation partly offset recent ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet”

  16. Are these events actually anomalous “extreme weather events” like they claim? The EAIS is up to 4,500 m thick and that is in places that receive 25-50 mm of snow per year. The 4,500 m of glacier ice represents about 45,000 m of snowfall, then factor in sublimation as well as flow rate, and that would require even more snowfall to accumulate the ice sheet. I would think that an area that dry would require “anomalous” years of high snowfall throughout its entire history to accumulate that much ice.
    P.S. Does a gradual thickening of the AIS over time account for why previous interglacial periods had higher sea levels?

  17. As Jim Steele noted above, atmospheric rivers have been talked about for a long time. The “Pineapple Express” is one I have used many times to explain to the uninitiated how “normal” some of our so called “extreme” weather events are. We have known for a long time the havoc a “blocking high” can have when warm pacific air meets colder artic air or descends the east slope of the rockies. As much as some want to call it climate change, it’s just weather. Growing up with ranch people who were born at the same time as my country (Canada) was born provides a good perspective on weather, adaptation, and how lucky we are to live in an era of energy abundance.
    Most people can understand the concept of an “atmospheric river” in the age of dailey satellite representations on the six o’clock news. Whether it is technically “correct” is irrelevant (IMHO). It gets the message across and people might even understand the weather better.
    No axes to grind. Have a good day. Sitting under a high, enjoying the radiation. 😄

  18. Vancouver Island sees the Pineapple Express from time to time. It’s characterized by copious rainfall and mild temperature. The charts at the time show a pretty narrow flow stretching from near Hawaii to our coast.
    The term ‘atmospheric river’ implies that the water at the discharge point originated (left the ocean surface) far away and stayed airborne over hundreds of miles before suddenly rising, cooling and dumping on us.
    That’s somewhat believable since it’s a winter phenomenon with nice warm temps, but I wonder if someone can describe the mechanics of it.
    What’s happening at the half-way point for example; is it raining or evaporating or neither?

    • the interesting thing is that it is an extended low, that for some reason doesn’t collapse along its short axis.
      the closest analogy I can think of is the air curtain you see in the doors of supermarkets. Somehow the moving air acts as a wall, preventing air from moving through the wall.

    • A 2011 article in EOS defined an AR as
      (1) integrated water vapor (IWV) concentrations such that if all the vapor in the atmospheric column were condensed into liquid water, the result would be a layer 2 or more centimeters thick; (
      2) wind speeds of greater than 12.5 meters per second in the lowest 2 kilometers; and
      (3) a shape that is long and narrow, no more than 400–500 kilometers wide, and extending for thousands
      of kilometers, sometimes across entire ocean basins.
      It is not clear how much precipitation is release over the AR’s entire path, but ARs release most of their moisture upon reaching the mainland and mountainous regions where uplift creates condensation and precip

  19. Hmm. Looking at the graphic, had to remind myself that lows spin clockwise and highs counter-clockwise in the upside down part of the world. (With apologies to those south of the equator.)

  20. And now for the “money shot”:
    And this can have important consequences for Antarctica’s diminishing ice sheet. “There is a need to understand how the flow of ice within Antarctica’s ice sheet responds to warming and gain insight in atmospheric processes, cloud formation and snowfall,” adds Nicole Van Lipzig, co-author of the study and professor of geography at KU Leuven.
    Seems like they haven’t forgotten the refrain from their university days: “Please send money.”
    Maybe when they have 60 years or so worth of quality data they can make some good conclusions.
    Until then, it’s just SWAGs based on incomplete data.
    (shades of: “No mon, no fun, your Son.” [could be taxpayers reply]
    “Too bad, so sad, your Dad.”)
    Some things never change 🙂

    • Thanks for the Allan Sherman memory. I was just thinking of his liberties with ” Ce c’est bon” as” I see bones”, etc.

  21. I was in the artic between 1955 and 1978 and even at 31000 ft you could see bare strips of Victoria isle, it was always dark of course. The dark strips always ran west to east .I always though it was high winds from high altitude that caused this, not much snow on the ground at that latitude, but the dark strips were not always there, The trop was down to about 25000 ft.

  22. “A separate study found that the Antarctic ice sheet has lost substantial mass in the last two decades – at an average rate of about 68 gigatons per year during the period 1992-2011.”
    And, what does this number amount to as a % of the total ice sheet? How far right of the decimal place is it?

  23. Those who are interested in learning (and not just wise-cracking) can read the full paper at
    http://woodland.ucsd.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/gorodetskaya_etal_grl2014.pdf
    The original paper includes not a single mention of global warming or climate change.
    The conclusion does include this: “This analysis, indicating the important role of ARs in the Antarctic ice sheet mass balance, suggests that climate models simulating Antarctic SMB require adequate representation of ARs.”
    and this: “The relationship between ARs and high-accumulation events is of great importance for understanding interannual variability and trends of the total Antarctic ice sheet SMB, with implications for future SMB changes and also paleorecord interpretation.”
    Note: SMB = Antarctic ice sheet surface mass balance AR = atmospheric river

    • The paper is damned by the press release.
      Your citations from the study shows that it adds no new understanding. Oblivion for these types is the preferred end.

      • mpainter ==> The whole paper is only 8 pages, 1 1/2 of those are references. If you want to know anything about it, other than the tittle-tattle from most commenters here (none of whom seem to have taken the trouble to even glance at the paper), you’ll have to read it.

    • Snow accumulation during 2009–2012 is calculated based on hourly snow height measurements using an acoustic depth gauge installed as part of an automatic weather station (AWS) 300 m east from PE during
      2 February 2009 to 31 December 2012

      I think that the snow accumulation in East Antarctica equated to 3cm so ±100% uncertainty. The press release says “The resulting snow accumulation partly offset recent ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet, report researchers from KU Leuven.” probably to be used with any “the land ice in Antarctica is disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change” press release in the near future.

    • Kip Hansen, if the paper contains no mention of Global Warming or Climate Change, why is it in the press release for the paper? Isn’t that like deceptive advertising for the paper?
      The press release does a dis-service to the paper by including it as it is not in the original paper and many will dismiss the paper out of hand because of it.

  24. Looking at the isobar plot that accompanies this article, I am struck by how large is that low pressure. The closed isobar circulation stretches from about 49S to 75S. That’s over 3,000 km. That fetch is lofting a huge amount of surface moisture into the jet stream loop headed for the Antarctic coast.

  25. Actually these “atmospheric rivers” (I agree it’s a silly name) do occur now and then. For example there was one in 1861-.62 that caused 45 straight days of rain (and extreme flooding) in California, sort of a Super-Pineapple Express.
    Though since “they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses” I guess the official version now is that it never happened.

  26. “Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects.”
    Of course not. You wouldn’t receive funding if they did!

  27. Having read the paper, there isn’t much to object to in it. However I miss any reference to the fact that there is a major mountain range in Dronning Maud land and the probable orographic reinforcement of precipitation. I also very much miss any effort to determine the long-term variability in precipitation in East Antarctica, which would have been easy given the availability of the high-definition Law Dome core.
    As a matter of fact a quick check of the accumulation rate at Law Dome (http://www.clim-past-discuss.net/10/4469/2014/cpd-10-4469-2014.pdf) shows that the accumulation rate quite regularly varies by a factor 2 between years, and that factor 4 variations occur a few times per century. Interestingly an eyeball estimation seems to indicate that variability was distinctly larger during the MWP and since c. 1750 than during the LIA.
    However I tend to agree with mpainter – the paper is damned by the press release which follows a now well-established modus operandi of exaggeration and scare-mongering. This is of course quite safe since nobody in the MSM has the inclination (or probably, the ability) to read and understand the actual paper.

    • That is obvious when the school press releases are in far exaggeration of what is in the paper re: Climate Change, with references to Climate Change by the non-science media offices at these universities.
      What comes to mind is that these PR offices are dominated by liberal educated (read: indoctrinated in Climate Change lies) such that they paint a picture that will be picked-up by the MSM, a storyline fabrication that is NOT actually in the author’s science paper.

  28. When you consider that the Antarctica ice sheet contains about 27 Million cubic km of ice, a loss of 68 Billion tons of ice per year (68 cubic km) would take 390,000 years to melt. This is a loss of 6,800 cubic km per 100 years, which would cause the worlds oceans to raise a total 0.8 inches in the full 100 years. How this is even an issue is beyond me. Throwing big numbers around is misleading unless the full story is told.

    • Can we compare Apples with Apples please? If Antarctica is losing a ‘substantial’ 68 gigatons a year what percentage is that of the total 27 million billion (27 peta) tons? It’s better we compare mass with mass and not mass with volume?
      So, about these asteroids.

      • One cubic km is 1E9 cubic meters. That volume weighs 1 gigatonne.
        68 divided by 27000000 is 2.5E-6 or 2.5 ppm.
        The claimed loss of 68 gigatons is bogus. The net annual Antarctic ice mass is very likely increasing. The exact amount can’t be measured accurately.

  29. So, these are unprecedented in the last 60 years and only happened a few times since the mid 1800’s based on model output and core record interpretation?
    What in the end is the ultimate major contributor to mass balance of the ice sheet itself?

  30. A separate study found that the Antarctic ice sheet has lost substantial mass in the last two decades – at an average rate of about 68 gigatons per year during the period 1992-2011.

    I like the term “substantial mass.” 68 gigatons per year sounds scary, giga something and all that. But it is only roughly 68 cubic kilometres, which doesn’t quite sound as bad. But when you then note that Antarctica contains 26,500,000 cubic km of ice, it pales into insignificance. 0.0003 percent. Or it would take 389,000 years to melt at that rate.
    Like all ‘climate science’ the figures are far too accurate, are they really measuring this mass gain / loss. Again, what are the error ranges.

  31. I just read the paper and I find it to be interesting and a good scientific contribution. However I also understand why skeptics are annoyed by the press release’s final statement “Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects. On the contrary, they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses. ”
    First much of Antarctica is a polar desert because the extreme cold air wrings out most of the moisture before delivering snow to the interior. So the delivery of lots of moisture due to an AR helps us understand how Antarctica accumulates snow. Natural oscillations create periods of more frequent blocking Highs which could direct ARs to deliver more snow, which may indeed offset any loss of glacier ice from upwelled waters in the Amundsen Sea.
    Their final press release statement looks like they feel the need to acknowledge the dominant paradigm of global warming for whatever reason and felt the requirement (their own or the editors) to prevent skeptics from using their research to argue against CO2 warming. Nonetheless their research offers absolutely no reason to believe the opposite: that any decreased SMB has been due to CO2 warming, or that the planet is warming or that AR snow fall will not reverse recent trends. Future observations will be telling and I suspect AR’s will indeed be an integral part of the mechanism that increases Antarctica’s SMB.

    • Jim, I also read the paper. Decided not to comment at all. Paper was interesting, and helps explain some of Antarctic ice loss contradictions noted in essay Tipping Points. Had not realized there could be this much snow this quickly in a ‘dry’ region. ‘Science by press release’ has been sufficiently debunked previously. Uninteresting, known MSM bias, and complainingnhere won’t change MSM. Several egregious examples in the new ebook. And we have the 2014 warmest ever debacle serving as this week’s example of the PR point.
      BTW, can you persuade your publisher to bring out an ebook version of Landscapes. I ran out of room some years ago for more paper books. Plenty of memory on all machines, though. TY.

    • “The unusually high snow accumulation in Dronning Maud Land in 2009 that we attributed to atmospheric rivers added around 200 gigatons of mass to Antarctica, which alone offset 15 per cent of the recent 20-year ice sheet mass loss,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.
      15% in one year.. extrapolate over the 20 year time frame.These people are being coy so they can publish.
      Think nice of them and look at the numbers again.
      What really going on down there?

  32. wow, they did a study about water vapor being carried to Antarctica and dumped snow. Gosh, who’d a thought this happens… how did all the snow get there before the advent of AR’s? Must have been penguins splashing a lot …. honestly extreme weather events, like snow in Antarctica…. they have no shame…..

    • Bingo.
      Exactly what I gleaned from the press release.
      Antarctica was an ice free desert until these experts discovered the new and exciting phenomenon of Atmospheric Rivers.
      Seems to me the Team ™ IPCC is not even trying anymore.
      Perhaps the actual article is something new, but the press release is certainly calculated to make an interested observer go;”Why bother “.
      So coming up with a “sexy’ name for the water cycle and its impact on land masses is worthy of publishing in the science journals? Seems excessively vapid.

  33. “The unusually high snow accumulation in Dronning Maud Land in 2009 that we attributed to atmospheric rivers added around 200 gigatons of mass to Antarctica, which alone offset 15 per cent of the recent 20-year ice sheet mass loss,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.

    So, in just one year, atmospheric rivers added enough snow mass to offset 3 years of 68 gigatons lost by melting ice sheets. But a few things are still unclear to me:
    1. Were the 200 gigatons just from Dronning Maud Land alone, or were other areas in Antarctica included in that measurement?
    2. Are the 200 gigatons in 2009 typical of an atmospheric river event, or was it an extreme? And how many gigatons fell in 2011 in comparison?
    3. How often do atmospheric river events occur? If they happen every 2 or 3 years, and add about 200 gigatons on average, wouldn’t that just about make up for the 68 gigatons lost every year?

    • Good points. It may be concluded from this study that ice mass of Antarctica is increasing, if snowfall is balanced against a loss of ~70 gtonnes/yr. Could be this study has some value, after all, but contrary to what was presented by the wretched press release.

    • I believe you will find the estimates were derived through radar. That would be localized, but able to be extrapolated to a degree.
      Antarctic ice doesn’t exist without precipitation. It takes a bunch to cover a continent to any depth over time.

  34. “Our results should not be misinterpreted as evidence that the impacts of global warming will be small or reversed due to compensating effects. On the contrary, they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses. Thus, our understanding of climate change and its worldwide impact will strongly depend on climate models’ ability to capture extreme weather events, such as atmospheric rivers and the resulting anomalies in precipitation and temperature.”
    Good grief. Is it one or all of the following?
    1. That last part was nothing but pure street prostitution setting up another trick for more funds from the gravy train.
    2. They have reverted back to the dark ages when only one thing caused everything: “It’s flooding therefore God is mad. The Sun is shining therefore God is happy.”
    3. Scientifically, these people have no shame that they do not know a damn thing about proper use of observation methods, measures of statistical significance, and plausible mechanisms.

    • “Moving forward, we aim to explore the impact of atmospheric rivers on precipitation in all Antarctic coastal areas using data records covering the longest possible time period. We want to determine exactly how this phenomenon fits into climate models,” says Irina Gorodetskaya.
      Pamela, lets see what they do. Remember, just to publish many people have to at least pay lip service to A.G.W.
      Most of us were asleep at the switch when these people (agw) infested the various centers of authority. Slamming people who now have to work within it is not fair. They left bread crumbs, you just have to read carefully without seeing “red” when it comes time for them to render up their pound of flesh.
      Be of good cheer
      michael

      • No. I don’t buy that message at all. Far too many times that exact “play the game” thinking has led to real human and animal tragedy, including butcher medicine. Acquiescence is no innocent game when the game could end in suffering. Sorry, you will find no sympathy or empathy here.

      • Better NOT to publish in those journals if the price is dishonesty. Put it online at your university library, or on WUWT or CA. Hasten the death of guilty journals. I believe biased, tendentious editors are far worse than no editor. The internet is poised and ready to take up all the slack when no editor is the case.

  35. ICESAT data showed Antarctic Ice mass was actually growing slightly at +49GT/yr….
    Since ICESAT data didn’t jive with the CAGW narrative, the “scientists” now only refer to GRACE data which shows a slight loss of land ice:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/09/10/icesat-data-shows-mass-gains-of-the-antarctic-ice-sheet-exceed-losses/
    Even the GRACE data only shows a net land ice loss of just 63GT/yr, which is hardly a “significant” loss” considering the total Antarctic Ice Mass is around 23,000,000 GT…
    Let’s see…. 23,000,000GT/63GT/yr= about 365,000 years to melt Antarctica.. Oh, the humanity…. We’ll probably be in the next glaciation period within 5,000 years, so I think 360,000 years is a large buffer…

  36. So, we need a page to show all the facts that refute all the lies just stated about climate change in the State of the Union by President Obama.
    1. Drought graph
    2. Tropical storm graph
    3 18 year plus of no global warming graph
    4. Global sea ice graph
    5. Global snowfall graph
    6. Precipitation graph
    7. Extreme weather graph
    8. Extreme weather fatalities graph
    9. Other suggestions which show the out and out lies just stated by Obama…(I couldn’t believe my ears)

    • It was broadcast here in Australia just now, but only focussed on the growing economy/jobs, reduced national debt and more people insured. No mention of climate change etc.

      • Here is direct quote from the text of his speech:
        “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
        I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.
        That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”
        What do I tell my close friends who believe all this as gospel??

      • What do I tell my close friends who believe all this as gospel??
        Tell them to wait a couple of decades then ask them to show us their promised thermogeddon.
        These lunatics claim to prophesy the climate.
        Reality will show everyone what lunatics they are.
        Eventually they will be forced to climb down from their end-of-the-world gathering at the top of the hill,
        and get on with the real life they have been trying to deny and escape.

      • Failed to include Obama’s intro to his climate change spiel:
        “No challenge  —  no challenge  — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” he warned, proceeding to launch into a three paragraph sally that included some serious mockery…
        (It wasn’t in the published speech text)

    • If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance> … There don’t you feel better… I did notice that none of the commenters talked about it afterwards.

  37. @ Jon Philip Peterson 9:28
    What do I tell my close friends who believe all this as gospel??
    If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.
    If you like your health plan, you can keep it.
    There are more of those.

  38. @ Jon Philip Peterson 9:28
    ‘The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.’
    That’s why we armed ISIS?

    • lee (responding to)

      Jon Philip Peterson 9:28
      ‘The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.’

      That’s why we armed ISIS?

      In the same time frame that Iran continued building nuclear weapons,
      that Israel was bombarded by almost 6000 rockets randomly aimed at its cities and houses fired from within its enemies’ neighborhoods,
      when North Korea continued rocket and nuclear bomb technology,
      when Communist China exceeded American economic development and weapons design and fabrication,
      when Communist China economically bought out resources across Africa,
      when Russia isolated then cut off all of Europe’s natural gas supply and transcontinental oil pipelines,
      when Canada’s energy exports were laid up in isolation by 15 years of “study”,
      when Venezuela and Cuba lost their Communist economies and long-time communist leaders,
      when Central America crossed our borders by invitation with 15 million (or was it 32 million) illegal aliens,
      when Muslim extremists committed over 24,000 separate acts of Islam terrorism and violence against more than 109,000 individuals …
      when American and Western economies have been mired in 8 years of continuous economic recession and loss BECAUSE of the administration’s own energy and economic policies,
      when 57% of American households are depending not on jobs for their salaries but on monthly government paychecks and welfare,
      when the Russian economy is collapsing back into Communism (and pulling other nations back into its dictatorship!),
      our Secretary of State and President and their “team” of White House “leaders” have declared a 2/10 of one degree increase in weather over an 18 year period “the most important international risk to our national security” …
      Do we need to say more about who controls the national “RESET” button on national security?

  39. Just how long political leaders and media elites will succeed in persuading the majority that the climate is warming, when in fact it is beginning to cool, will be the best possible illustration of the limitations of, and the real nature of, human “intellect” and sentience.
    Of the spectacular communal logical fallacies of which we are capable.
    And of the underlying fact that most people prefer fabricated reality, however absurd, to actual reality.
    The grotesquely bulbous head, complex social behaviour and appearance of intelligence in H. “sapiens” evolved to deceive and manipulate primarily, for the purpose of maximal social control by psychological violence.
    To use these faculties to educate and enrich one’s fellow person is a better use of them,
    but is a redirection from their primary evolutionary purpose.
    Good needs to subvert evil.
    With real intelligence, real science can subvert politicized manipulative pseudo-science.
    The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.
    Who can understand it?

    (Jeremiah)

  40. More meridional jet streams and atmospheric high pressure cells causing ‘blocking’ events are the features that give rise to more persistent and longer ‘rivers’ of precipitation which allow more warm air towards the poles and more air from the poles across middle latitudes.
    One sees more of such phenomena when the sun is less active leading to an expansion of the polar air masses at the surface in the form of ‘negative’ Arctic and Antarctic Oscillations.
    It is a sign that global cooling will eventually follow when the increased cloudiness from longer and more persistent such ‘rivers’ has had time to reduce solar energy into the oceans.

  41. Billis Illis posted this clip a few years ago in the middle of an enlightening rant about what a rotating sphere with an atmosphere does.:

    You can see the clouds peeling away from the tropics like smoke from a cigarette, then flowing towards the poles like a poorly confined “river.”
    “Atmospheric river” is a reasonable and informative phrase, because it helps people picture the process of water flowing in the atmosphere.
    Of course, the best way to picture it is to watch the clip of global circulation. That seems to show–for 2010–most of the precipitation from “atmospheric rivers” falling on Marie Byrd Land rather than Queen Maud Land.

  42. “On the contrary, they confirm the potential of the Earth’s warming climate to manifest itself in anomalous regional responses.”
    Anomalous regional responses? I wonder what data they have to support that statement? Or does an anomalous regional response mean whatever the writer wants it to mean.

  43. If Antarctica was losing land-ice at a greater rate than average, it would show up as a change of the 4000 yr, steady, meager rate of sea-level rise.

    • Instead the rate of sea level rise is slowing.
      If the polynomial trend fit to the U Colorado data were to continue it would stop increasing in about 150 years.

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