March 03, 2006

Antarctica: Still Melting, But Faster

That Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than it's being replenished:

... Researchers at the University of Colorado determined that between 2002 and 2005 Antarctica lost ice at a rate of 36 cubic miles a year, rather than growing from heavier snowfalls as had been predicted.

... Taken together, the findings suggest that a century of steady increases in global temperatures is altering the seasonal balance of the world's water cycle, in which new snow and ice neatly offset thaw and rainfall runoff every year to maintain the current level of the seas. ...

The Antarctic holds 70% of the world's fresh water and 90% of its ice. This is a pretty significant problem, and one of those global warming gift packages that prove our science community not to have been pessimistic enough about the havoc it could wreak:

... The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone - which is about eight times smaller in volume than the East Antarctic ice sheet - would raise global sea levels by more than 20 feet (6 metres), according to researchers from the British Antarctic Survey.

The study disputes the most recent Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, completed in 2001, which predicted the Antarctic ice sheet would gain mass in the 21st century because of increased precipitation in a warming climate. ...

So here it is, more study. If this ice shelf melts, which it looks like it's headed towards, millions of people will be displaced from their homes for, practically speaking, ever. Countries like Bangladesh could end up almost entirely underwater. It's very likely that many thousands, at least, would die in more extreme weather. Barrier reefs will offer less protection to the land as the surface of the ocean rises above them. Productive coastal ecosystems will be lost as both habitat and food sources. And the addition of that much fresh water into the ocean would almost certainly alter currents in ways that we can just guess at.

It will be death and destruction. That's probably an understatement. The work of anyone who wants a decent future should be to make sure that everyone they know knows about this and starts thinking about some way to work for positive environmental change. Whether that means education, activism or just finding ways to conserve at home. Do something. Please. At this point, we're probably only going to be able to apply a bit of braking, but it would be worth it.

Posted by natasha at March 3, 2006 09:25 AM | Environment | Technorati links |

If we dump that much fresh water into the ocean, I don't think anyone will care very much about the rise of the sea levels. They'll be too busy dealing with the aftereffects of the gulfstream shutting down from desalinization.

Posted by: Zed Pobre at March 3, 2006 11:45 AM

One neoluddite opined:

buffalo chips.

Posted by: degustibus at March 3, 2006 04:42 PM