During the summer of 2016, an unprecedented melt event took place in West Antarctica and scientists are worried that this is a portent of things to come.
The Ross Ice Shelf, which is the largest floating ice platform on the planet, experienced a sheet of meltwater that persisted for as much as 15 days in some locations. The area affected was huge: 300,000 square miles – larger than the state of Texas.
In May of 2014, researchers determined that the largest glaciers in Antarctica were collapsing. At the time, it was suspected that the melt causing the collapse was from the bottom up; that warmer waters beneath the glaciers were eroding the foundations of the glaciers, subsequently causing them to fracture.
With respect to this most recent development, David Bromwich, an Antarctic expert at Ohio State University warns, “It provides us with a possible glimpse of the future. You probably have read these analyses of West Antarctica; many people think it’s slowly disintegrating right now, and it’s mostly thought to be from warm water eating away at the bottom of critical ice shelves. Well, that’s today. In the future, we could see action at the surface of these ice shelves as well from surface melting. So that makes them potentially more unstable.”
This new discovery of surface water on the glaciers, coupled with the upward melt, has stunned scientists. Researchers based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Ohio State University detected a sharp rise in temperatures in the region and the presence of clouds containing a large amount of moisture. Most people don’t realize that Antarctica is a desert. It doesn’t rain there. But the evidence shows that rain has fallen on the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf. The water is not a result of melting from the bottom up.
“In some parts it could be slush, for example, a mixture of ice and liquid water,” Bromwich said.
Video of the event was captured on video by a monitoring station in the heart of West Antarctica.
So what does that mean?
If all of the ice in Antarctica melts, it means a sea level rise of about 10 feet, with devastating impact on the coasts of the United States. But all the ice doesn’t have to melt for the consequences to be dire. Case in point: Louisiana. Isle de Jean Charles, just off the Louisiana coast, has lost 98 percent of its land mass, causing the long time residents of that island to be the United States’ first climate refugees.
The rainfall and subsequent melt are thought to be the result of last summer’s El Niño, which, according to Bromwich, could occur more frequently in the future. “I would say this shows, in perhaps a more realistic way, how melting could proceed in the future.”
The graphic below was provided by the research team showing the extent of the melt:
Even if every nation on the entire planet outlawed fossil fuels today, the damage to the planet would take decades, perhaps centuries, to rectify. In the meantime, mankind would have to deal with the rising oceans and all of the massive problems posed by a radically changed climate: population displacement, scarcity of water, severe weather events, famine and the wars that would be a result of desperate people clamoring for a toehold on survival. The events in Syria are thought to be at least in part caused by the climate change induced drought that drove people from the countryside into already crowded cities.
There are those who argue that human beings are too small and puny relative to the size of the planet to have an effect on the climate. To them I say this: A microscopic organism can enter your body, wreak havoc and ultimately kill you. Why do you understand that and not understand that the Earth is like a body and we are those organisms wreaking havoc upon it? The Earth is a sealed entity surrounded by a thin atmosphere and we are filling that atmosphere with gases that are ultimately deadly to the human race.
The effects of rapid global climate change are happening all around us. More and more often, we are seeing reports of scientists shocked at the new data they collect. For the sake of our children and future generations – and there are those who think we may not have future generations – we must at least try to put the brakes on the warming that is taking place. To do anything else is to commit mass suicide.
As Antarctica goes, so goes the planet.
Ann Werner is the author of thrillers and other things. Show her some love and check out her books!
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