Antarctic Meteorites Disappearing in Warming Planet's Melting Ice

Apr 17, 2024

Meteorite Discoveries By Continent

Antarctica is one of the world's best sites for meteorite hunting. But it could be losing thousands of these space rocks to climate change, found a new study.

Meteorites are laden with treasure troves of details about our solar system. Yet, vanishing ice is plunging 5,000 of them out of sight on the frozen plains of the White Continent, found a team of European scientists. They published their findings last week in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

This is a slightly unforeseen impact of climate change, lead co-author Harry Zekollari told National Geographic. He's a glaciologist from Belgium. He said: “These places are below freezing, yet we are still (greatly changing) a very important archive of the solar system.”  

Antarctica is a vast expanse of ice and snow. So it's an easy place to spot dark gray and brown meteorites. Any rock sitting on top of the ice is all but certain to have fallen from space. Meteorite hunters, to date, have found roughly 48,000 space rocks there. And it's at a rate of about 1,000 per year. That rate accounts for nearly one-third of these cosmic samples found around the world.  

Meteorites are often formed from broken asteroids. But some come from Mars. Others come from the moon. Many are billions of years old. They contain remnants of dying stars. They carry hints about the birth of the solar system, too.   

“As the climate (keeps warming), Antarctic rocks are sinking into the ice at an increasing rate,” Maria Valdes, a University of Chicago research scientist not involved in the study, told CNN. “Over time, this will make many meteorites (lost) to scientists. We lose precious time capsules that hold clues to the history of our Solar System.”      

Reflect: If you could spend a year traveling around any one continent other than your own, which would you choose?

What was the problem discussed in the article about Antarctica? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. Antarctica is becoming too warm for scientific expeditions due to climate change.
b. Meteorites are sinking into the ice due to climate change, making them hard to recover.
c. Meteorites are being washed into the ocean, making it difficult to find them.
d. There are too many meteorites for scientists to effectively study.
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