Studies Indicate Melting Increasing at Both Poles
September 14, 2007 2:05 PM
New images from space show giant swaths of melting over Antarctica in 2005. Melting is indicated in red, orange, and yellow.
Most studies and data collection indicate that the Arctic ice cap is melting, now a new study shows the Antarctic ice cap is also losing mass
blogger Michael Asher recently
wrote an article
which indicated that Antarctica's ice cap was thickening. The article cited a study by the British
Cambridge Centre for Polar Observations. The Center's study, published in July 2006, stated that Antarctic ice mass was increasing by
. The study had an admittedly large range of error that was in fact larger than the predicted increase. The large error range was attributed to difficulties in predicting snow density.
Another major study, which contradicts the
Cambridge Centre's results was released a few months before. The study was conducted by major U.S. research institute
CIRES, a joint institute comprised of Colorado University-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The study
in the journal
in March 2006.
The study used two NASA satellites to examine the mass of Antarctica's ice cover. The satellites would experience variable gravitational pull as they passed over the poles, depending on the mass of snow cover. This technique allowed the study to predict the mass of snow at the poles much more precisely, with a smaller range of error than the
Cambridge Centre's study.
The CIRES study discovered that Antarctic ice mass was actually decreasing, at a rate of
152 ± 80 cubic kilometers of ice per year. The
Cambridge Centre's study actually might predict an increase or a decrease, but the
CIRES study clearly reports a decrease.
Further, the CIRES study indicates the decrease in ice mass would lead to
0.4 ± 0.2 millimeters of global sea-level rise per year. This would mean that over 100 years, the loss in Antarctic ice mass would lead to global sea level rising 4 cm, as the ice is on bedrock. These gradually rising sea levels would likely lead to loss of habitable land in coastal areas, such as Florida and California. Also, the large amount of water displaced into the ocean, would likely disrupt the ocean's currents, causing unpredictable climate changes.
and data over recent years have indicated that large areas of Antarctic ice which had not previously thawed
are now freezing and rethawing
each year. This may eventually lead to even greater loss of ice mass.
As mentioned in Michael Asher's article, there is consensus in the scientific community that the Arctic ice cap is melting, and many studies indicate it is melting at a rate far faster than predicted.
While critics deride global warming and climate change models as being overly pessimistic, it turns out they may be too optimistic in their predictions of climate change. A
more recent study
by CIRES indicates that the Arctic ice caps are melting at a rate that is far faster than that predicted by any of the current climate models. The actual data paints a picture of Arctic ice melt far bleaker than that in the models.
While the melting of the Arctic ice cap will not increase sea levels, it will destroy the Arctic biosphere. It will most likely lead to the extinction in the wild of many species include large mammals, such as the polar bear and various arctic seals. This unfortunate loss of biodiversity may be an unprecedented ecological event. If global warming is a result of human behavior--industrialization, deforestation, and/or domestication--as many theories predict, then the impending extinction would mark the first time a single species single-handedly destroyed a major ecosystem.
The melting of Arctic ice cap may not lead to sea levels rising, but the melting of the ice cover on neighboring Greenland, certainly will. A new major
by the University of Reading in Britain is investigating the rate of melting. Its finding are that Greenland's average temperature only needs to increase by 3 degrees Celsius to melt its ice-sheet, and that significant melting is likely to occur over the next century.
The study indicates that over 1000 years the melting of Greenland's ice cover will raise sea levels by 7 meters. This equals an increase of over 2 feet a century. Combined with the CIRES study's predictions for the Antarctic melt, this means that sea levels could rise by over 3 ft in the next century. As mentioned, this would have numerous negative social and climatological effects.
As new studies and data emerge, a clear picture of melting at both poles emerges. Whether we can reverse this melting with technology, or whether we are too late remains to be seen. However, though the cost may be high, the ramifications of inaction may be far worse. Coastal land loss, chaotic weather from
droughts and flooding
, and irreversible loss of biodiversity are among the dire consequences of inaction. Admittedly, many of the details of climate change are not understood, so people need to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions, absolutely. However, the threat of these consequences and effects (good and/or bad) leaves no doubt that this is a significant topic to the future of mankind's habitation of Earth and much scientific research needs to be done to more precisely understand what is causing global warming, and a creative examination of if it is within the means of modern technology to fix it.
"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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