Climate Change Mystery Mystifies Scientists, Antarctic Ice Study Shows Ice Gain Despite All Odds

Many of the predictions about climate change are being challenged because of new findings from the bottom of the world.

A recent study in the Journal of Glaciology reported that, despite the effects of man-made global warming, the barren, frozen continent of Antarctica, which is home to more penguins than humans, is actually gaining ice rather than losing it, defying all odds.

According to the Antarctic ice study, which was led by Jay Zwally, a NASA glaciologist, an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is actually adding enough ice to the continent to make up and even surpass the increased losses from thinning glaciers, particularly in eastern and central portions of the continent.

According to Newsweek, the team of researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland in College Park, and Maryland-based engineering firm Sigma Space Corporation analyzed satellite data and found that the continent gained 112 billion tons of ice per year from 1992 to 2001.

The team reported that the rate slowed down to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008, and they claim that if the trend continues, it will take only 20 or 30 years for the ice melt in Antarctica to outweigh the ice gains.

While Zwally doesn’t discount current climate change predictions, he said his team was surprised by the findings in some parts of Antarctica.

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge. Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica; there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.”

On the other hand, a second study out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Johannes Feldmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research notes that the destabilization and eventual collapse of the massive West Antarctic ice sheet — a result of global warming — would eventually lead to as much as a nine-foot sea level rise worldwide, inundating coastal cities.

In a press release, Feldmann said the effects of climate change will begin immediately.

“What we call the eternal ice of Antarctica unfortunately turns out not to be eternal at all. In our simulations, 60 years of melting at the presently observed rate are enough to launch a process which is then unstoppable and goes on for thousands of years. This certainly is a long process, but it’s likely starting right now.”

Despite the contradictory messages, Ted Scambos, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told USA Today that both findings can be happening simultaneously.

The first study is more of a short-term prediction said Scambos, while the second is looking long-term at what will happen over centuries or even millennia if the planet continues to suffer climate change.

Scambos also challenged the methodology of the first study, saying incomplete data may have affected the finding of thickening ice in some portions of Antarctica.

Scambos emphasizes that the long-term trend is what’s most alarming and his colleague, co-author and sea-level expert, Anders Levermann, agrees.

“It is clear that further greenhouse-gas emission will heighten the risk of an ice collapse in West Antarctica and more unstoppable sea-level rise. It might be something to worry about, because it would destroy our future heritage by consuming the cities we live in — unless we reduce carbon emission quickly.”

What are your predictions? Is the world facing desperate times because of climate change?

[Photo by Frances M. Ginter/Getty Images]