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I just picked this up on the AP from this morning and thought I would share it for any of you who may have missed it. This appears to be rather dire news from the South Pole.

Study: Antarctic glaciers slipping swiftly seaward

GENEVA (AP) — Antarctic glaciers are melting faster across a much wider area than previously thought, scientists said Wednesday — a development that could lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels.

A report by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year concluded that the western part of the continent is warming up, not just the Antarctic Peninsula.

Previously most of the warming was thought to occur on the narrow stretch pointing toward South America, said Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Britain-based Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and a member of International Polar Year's steering committee.

But satellite data and automated weather stations indicate otherwise.

After reading through the article, a few other points stood out for me (emphasis mine):

UPDATE: I have deleted the selected quotes from the article because, apparently I did not comment enough on them to quote more than three paragraphs and still be OK with copyright laws, yada, yada, yada. So, feel free to take the extra click time and go read the article. The points I thought important were:

  1. Glaciers moving much faster.
  1. Glacier discharge much greater than snowfall.
  1. First signs of incipient collapse.
  1. Sea level rise much higher than expected.
  1. Southern ocean warming much faster than the rest.

(Do I have to quote these too? Or do I need to put fancy little numbers and site them "properly"?)

Onto my thoughts on the article:

So, part of my issue with this article, outside of it being a huge eye-opener, is with the timing. For example, when he says we could be looking at a rise of 1 meter combined with saying this is happening much faster than anticipated, well where does that put us in terms of when this "incipient" collapse of the West Antarctic Sheet could happen? Any day now? 10 years? 50 years? What is the sense of timing with this?

I understand that the scientists don't like to "go there" but what are we to take from it?

Two other articles I read this morning also had a few lines in them that made me nervous, especially in connection with this recent news.

This first article is discussing the ice sheets themselves and discusses research being done at Penn State: Greenland And Antarctic Ice Sheet Melting, Rate Unknown. Apparently climate models currently do not incorporate ice into the predictions. To which I said, "WHAT??? Seriously???" Here is the quote:

Alley believes he knows the direction to go to gain a better understanding of the ice sheets, how they work and the effect they have on climate change. Although those who study ice sheets have long modeled ice sheet behavior, simulations of the whole earth system typically have not included ice sheets along with the atmosphere, oceans and clouds, in their models. Past atmospheric modelers usually treated the ice sheets simply as white mountains.

"They are not white mountains and they need to be modeled," said Alley. "We need to have them in the models to figure out how the system works."

Alley notes that a collaboration of government and academic scientists created the atmospheric and ocean models, but collaborations to model the ice are only just being developed.

The article also refers to ocean temperatures being more important to the ice melt than surface temperatures, which coincides with the last quoted paragraph from today's news that the southern ocean is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the earth's oceans.

"Water temperature is more important than air temperature in melting the ice shelves," says Alley. "However, both contribute."

Warmer oceans, caused by general global warming or local events can trigger more breakups of ice shelves and faster flow of ice streams in Antarctica. In Greenland, sustained increase in temperatures of only a few degrees will remove the ice.

And finally, there is this article discussing a mountain range underneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet. I encourage you to read the entire article, it's quite fascinating, but here is the snippit I want to take from it in relation to this diary:

The initial data also appear to confirm earlier findings that a vast aquatic system of lakes and rivers exists beneath the ice sheet of Antarctica, a continent that is the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined.

"The temperatures at our camps hovered around minus 30 degrees Celsius, but three kilometers beneath us at the bottom of the ice sheet we saw liquid water in the valleys," said AGAP U.S. Co-leader Robin Bell, also of Lamont Doherty. "The radar mounted on the wings of the aircraft transmitted energy through the thick ice and let us know that it was much warmer at the base of the ice sheet."

Great.

Originally posted to jbalazs on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 06:58 AM PST.

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