Antarctica has been in the news quite a bit as of late, thanks to recent studies of ice growth which indicate a point of no return. Scientists have been picking away at both the apparent acceleration of ice growth when it should be melting like it is in the Arctic, and the apparent slowdown in the rate of global warming for the last decade.
When data doesn’t match predictions, it tends to set off those who have made those predictions, so of course the climatologists want to know what’s happening. Why is the Arctic headed toward ice-free summers within just a few decades while our southernmost continent’s ice is growing rapidly? One theory put forth by Ian Eisenman is faulty data, as previously mentioned here.
Scientists have used satellite data to check sea ice cover for 35 years, but that data does not come from just one satellite, but rather is transmitted from a series of satellites and spliced together, leaving room for error. But there is far less of a debate about the other issue — an apparent slowdown in the rate of global warming during this century.
Separate teams of researchers have different explanations for the climate’s failure to keep up with the predicted climate change. One theory is that the heat we expected my be concealed deep in the ocean, and that pause in the warming was going to happen regardless — it just happened earlier than expected. But Shaun Lovejoy, professor of physics at McGill University in Canada, has a different explanation.
From a statistical analysis that coincides with the increase i man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, he believes a natural cycle is at work. The most recent human impact on the climate has been dampened down by a cooling phase. Lovejoy has already ruled out with 99 percent certainty that natural variation explains all the ups and downs of temperature averages since 1800. Now he used the same approach to the data over the last 15 years to figure out the unexpected cooling process.
But there is a more recently published finding which confirms a new era of unstoppable collapse. The latest findings indicate that the world’s climate system, though massive, is so fragile that it can be disrupted forever by human activity. The warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that the Antarctic ecosystem will suffer.
Some human contributions to the Antarctic shift include fallout from nuclear waste, the production of greenhouse gases due to fossil fuel emissions, and rising sea levels as Earth’s temperature rises overall.
This finding, however, is a bit different. It seems that rather than reacting to global warming with a gradual and predictable pattern of change, the West Antarctic ice sheet has forced the grounding line beneath the Amundsen Sea’s ice shelf to the top of a sub-glacial hill, from which it is now “rolling down.” It is believed that nothing humans can do at this point will stop the momentum of the event now that it has begun.
This event has never been observed during the 11,500 year Holocene era, and it is important that we recognize the existence of gigantic parts of the Earth’s ecosystem can be shifted when just a fraction of a temperature rise occurs. The risk is no longer just a theory based on the observations and computer simulations in these recent studies.
The main conclusion is that sea levels will continue to rise, and that this climate change has been caused by mankind, which means reducing the greenhouse effect could slow down the process. Humans need to decide now rather than later to stop elevating that gas. Continuing on the current path could further destabilize Antarctica, and eventually the world.