In a recent study published in Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, a trio of researchers led by Colgate University examined seasonal thawing in Antarctica and discovered that thawing cycles both occur earlier and remain thawed for longer than previously hypothesized. This study holds the potential to help us better understand “wetland processes in the terrestrial Antarctic in response to future climate change”, per the paper’s conclusions.
For the study, the researchers relied on satellite images from Planet Labs, which have the capability to conduct daily scans of the Earth, and sometimes multiple scans per day. This increased coverage is resulting in new datasets that allow examination without the need to travel to Antarctica and conduct in-person data collection.
"What we found was that when you can scan coastal Antarctica almost every day, not just a couple of times a summer, we see that the ground is actually thawing and turning into icy swamps a full month earlier than we used to think, and it's staying wet and thawed a full two months later, even into March," said Dr. Joseph Levy, who is an Assistant Professor of Geology at Colgate University, and a co-author on the study. "What's even more fascinating is that this ground is thawing and staying thawed at temperatures below freezing, so we know salts must be helping it to melt and keeping it muddy, like salting a road during a snowstorm."
While Dr. Levy states that while this longer melting period is beneficial for organisms that require meltwater to survive in the climate’s harsh environment, it could also be bad for the permafrost’s long-term stability.
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!