West Antarctica is warming at roughly twice the rate scientists previously believed, and roughly three times as fast as the planet as a whole, according to a new study of data from the middle of the region. The average temperature has risen 4.4°F since 1958, the New York Times reports, which means the huge ice sheet there might be at a greater risk of long-term collapse than previously believed. That event would drastically change global sea levels.
"The surprises keep coming," says one scientist. "When you see this type of warming, I think it's alarming." A 2009 study found extensive warming in West Antarctica, but climate change skeptics have challenged its findings. In an attempt to settle things, researchers retrieved the region's longest-running automated sensor, which has been consulted only rarely because of gaps in its measurements. They discovered a software error that had distorted its records and, using computer analysis to fill the gaps, concluded that if anything, the 2009 study low-balled the problem.