For years, as evidence has grown that global warming is an environmental threat, scientists have gone back and forth about the effect of greenhouse gases on Antarctica, the Earth's vast frozen, uninhabited southern continent.
Skeptics point to data from weather stations in the continent's interior that show temperatures have more or less remained steady for the past 50 years.
But new satellite information, combined with those ground-based temperature records indicate a different climate trend over the past half century.
Drew Shindell of the U.S. space agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York said there is no longer any question now that Antarctica is part of a global warming trend.
"We now see that warming is taking place on all seven continents of the Earth's continents in accord with what models predict about greenhouse gases," he said.
In a study published in this week's journal Nature
, Shindell and lead author Eric Steig of the University of Washington report a significant warming trend across Antarctica.
In West Antarctica, the temperature has climbed 0.85 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years. The researchers say this is a result of carbon emissions. They say the temperature increase is in keeping with the worldwide trend. Rapid warming in the continent's Western Peninsula has caused ice shelves to break off and melt.
Eric Steig conceded East Antarctica has a way to go before that side of the continent begins experiencing the kind of ice splits seen in the western Antarctic Peninsula.
"The new area where we've discovered significant warming is much colder, to begin with, than West Antarctica by 5 or 10 degrees celsius. So, it's going to be quite awhile before it reaches similar warmth to what's observed on the Peninsula. So, the short answer is there isn't a short term impact from our study on the amount of expected surface melt in the Antarctic. There's a long term impact if the trends that we found continue into the future," he said.
Steig said the study does not address whether global warming is being caused by human activity, but he said the findings support other studies that indicate global warming is a byproduct of greenhouse gas emissions.