Meanwhile, at the Other End of the Planet


Antarctic Ice, December 2010

Antarctic Ice, December 2010

WC has reported on the unprecedented sea ice melt in Nome, Alaska. Open water, in Nome, on the Being Sea, in mid-March.

Today we’ll visit the other end of the planet, Antarctica, where even more climate change is under way.

More than four years ago, WC wrote about Antarctica’s frightening melt rate. In December 2014, the Antarctic continent was losing ice at the nearly unbelievable rate of 134 billion metric tons a year. In the four year since, the news has only gotten worse.

Right now the southernmost continent is losing ice at the rate of about 200 billion tons per year. That’s half again what it was in 2014, and triple what it was in 1992. Since 1992, it’s raised ocean levels world wide by about eight millimeters. The new study draws on two dozen satellite estimates of Antarctic ice mass changes over the past 25 years.

Eight millimeters – about 5/16ths of an inch) may not seem like much, but there are two things to bear in mind: (1) there is a truly immense amount of ice in Antarctica, and (2) the melt rate is accelerating. So far as climatologists can tell, there’s no reason the melt rate won’t continue to accelerate.

Climate science had been worried more about Greenland, where rapid melting has been observed for some years, some research suggests ice losses of  about a trillion tons of ice between 2011 and 2014 alone.. But it’s increasingly apparent that the much bigger ice fields of Antarctica may be the bigger concern. A careful review of stallite and radar imagery found:

Over this period, ocean-driven melting has caused rates of ice loss from West Antarctica to increase from 53 ± 29 billion to 159 ± 26 billion tonnes per year; ice-shelf collapse has increased the rate of ice loss from the Antarctic Peninsula from 7 ± 13 billion to 33 ± 16 billion tonnes per year.
Yes, it’s the other end of the planet, but the oceans don’t know political boundaries or limitations of distance. What melts there raises the Atlantic, off North Carolina, and the Pacific, off Los Angeles. If it all melts, which climatologists think would take centuries, the oceans would rise by 180 feet.
And Trump thinks it is a Chinese hoax. WC weeps for his country.

 

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