Antarctica—Melting Faster Than Imagined


antarctica

For many years the scientific world has been aware that Antarctica is melting. Recent studies, however, show that the ice has been melting three to five times faster than anticipated.

Between 1992 and 2017 the Antarctic lost approximately 3.3 trillion tons of ice. While this is only 0.01 percent of the ice in the Antarctic, it has nonetheless caused sea levels to rise an average of eight millimeters around the world. What should worry all of us the most, however, is the new study by IMBIE, the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter Comparison Exercise, that shows that 40% of this loss took place between 2012 and 2017.

The IMBIE Study

The IMBIE study, which was published in the journal Nature, was conducted by 44 scientists from an international array of scientific organizations, collecting data from 24 different satellites.

The satellites showed how most of the melting is taking place on the western side of Antarctica, where the glaciers are holding the ice sheets. As these glaciers melt, the ice sheets are released, causing the greatest potential for flooding and damage. [1]

A New Cause of Melting Ice in Antarctica

Ultimately, the cause of the increased rate of melting ice in Antarctica is global warming. A more immediate cause of the accelerate melting, however, is the inability of fresh water and sea water to mix.

In the past, glacier water would melt primarily in the summer season and in quantities that allowed the fresh melted water to mix with the surrounding bodies of salt water. With accelerated melting, however, the surface layer around the glacier becomes less salty and more buoyant and the mixing process is disrupted. As a result, a pool of warm water forms under the glacier during the winter season and melting now takes place year-round.

Studies show that if the glaciers keep melting at the current rate, in just a few short years the ice sheets themselves will melt, causing sea levels to rise globally three full meters. If all of Antarctica were to melt, sea levels would rise 50 meters. [2]

The Future Is In Our Hands

Scientists partly attribute the extensive flooding damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, which caused losses of over $60 billion in the United States, to the higher sea level caused by the melting of ice in the Antarctic. [3] If not checked, rising sea levels will continue to amplify the damage caused by climate-related disasters.

To protect our coasts and save a projected trillion dollars over the next 50 years—not to mention human lives, wildlife and flora–there are actions that we must take. To this end the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change forged the Paris Agreement. Signed in 2016 and slated to be implemented in 2020, the long- and short-term goals of the Agreement include an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that global temperatures will not rise more than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. The Agreement calls for all countries to preserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs for greenhouse gases. There is a call for raising the public’s awareness concerning global weather change and to ensure they have access to public information. The Agreement also acknowledges the need to finance advanced technologies that can help control global climate change. [4] [5]

The Final Note

Despite the US backing out of the Paris Agreement, there is still cause for optimism. In the last five years there has been an increase of grassroots organizations to educate the public and help prevent human-made global warming. These groups have reached our universities, industries and even politicians. Recently there have been talks in Washington to rejoin the Paris Agreement.

Long-time environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club Foundation have joined forces with new international groups like 350.org and the Solutions Project to mitigate global warming and the melting of the Antarctic waters. While some of these groups take to the seas and the streets to fight global warming, other organizations, such as the Solutions Project, are helping to finance clean energy and sustainability projects. In all cases, these grassroots organizations show that the individual does have a voice and the power to make a positive change for tomorrow’s environment.

References

[1] Kevin Loria, All Signs Showing Antarctica Melting Faster Than Anyone Thought, June 17, 2018
[2] Josh Gabbitiss, Sea Levels could be rising faster than predicted due to new source of Antarctic ice melting, April 18, 2018
[3] Karen Clark and Company, Report Looks Back At Why Sandy Caused So Much Flooding Along Coast, November 1, 2013
[4] Sarah Cahlan, Antarctica is melting faster than we knew. Here is what it will take to save it., June 19, 2018
[5] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Climate, Get the Big Picture, December 15, 2016

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