Tagged: Antarctic

Yes — another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized


Click to enlarge — Hope Bay glacier now shedding ice

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size…

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems…Researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula…

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.”

The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

This has been a common theme in Antarctica recently — a similar mechanism has been postulated for melting of ice shelves in nearby West Antarctica (which contains vastly more ice, and more potential sea level rise, than does the Antarctic peninsula)…

Indeed, the paper suggests these southern Antarctic peninsula glaciers may have only begun their retreat. The glaciers may now be unstable, says the paper, because some of their ice shelves currently rest on bedrock that is not only below sea level, but slopes further downhill as one moves inland…

The greater Antarctic worry remains the ice shelves and glaciers in other regions, West Antarctica and East Antarctica, whose potential contribution to sea level rise is measured in feet or meters, not centimeters or inches. Still, the broad picture is that we’re now seeing consistent — and worrying — changes in many different regions on the fringes of the vast frozen continent.

The know-nothings carry on consistently. They seek out a lone skeptic, legitimate or otherwise, whose writings match their unwillingness to accept responsibility. It doesn’t really matter what the event may be, the process inexorably trudging towards future ills and dim loss. Whether a futile war, corrupt economic policies, destruction of our planetary environment – papier mache politicians accept neither responsibility nor the charge to lead the way from disaster.

Anti-science is only part of their anti-reality. Passing the buck to the next generation’s taxpayers is perfectly acceptable to creeps who define wars as unfunded mandates.

Scientists find origin of creepy “Blood Falls”


Click to enlargePeter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are some of the most extreme desert regions on the planet. But new research indicates that the region may actually be full of salty, extremely cold groundwater. The water may even connect surrounding lakes into a massive network, and it probably hosts extreme microbial life…

Despite McMurdo’s apparent dryness on the surface, it’s always hinted at something more: The region is home to the magnificently creepy Blood Falls, a red ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. For a while scientists believed that red algae gave this mysterious, bloody ooze its vibrant color. But even though iron oxide is responsible for the hue, analysis has shown that the feature does contain strange bacterial life.

Jill Mikucki and her colleagues used an electromagnetic sensor mounted on a helicopter to scope out the area, testing the conductivity of the ground below. Water increases its resistivity as it freezes, meaning that it’s less conductive of electrical currents. But salty water — which can stay liquid at lower temperatures — have very low resistivity.

“We found, as expected, that there was something sourcing Blood Falls,” Mikucki said, “and we found that these brines were more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground. That means there’s the potential for a much more extensive subsurface ecosystem, which I’m pretty jazzed about.”

It’s possible that this extensive brine isn’t unique to the valley, Mikucki explained, and that subsurface ecosystems of extreme microbes might be connected to visible lakes, and perhaps even interact with the ocean.

“It turns out that as beautiful and visceral as Blood Falls is in these valleys, it’s actually just a blip. It’s a little defect in this much more exciting feature,” she said.

Scientists have been using the Dry Valleys to test instruments since the Viking missions,” Mikucki said. “So how we detect the brines and access them is relevant to work on places like Mars…

And if we find life on another planet, it’s most likely going to look like the life we find in Antarctica. The subsurface lake Vostok, which is now thought to contain extensive (and quite alien) life, is often cited as an example of what might be found on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-and-ocean covered moon. Recent studies on Mars found evidence of brines on that planet, which could presumably have supported life once as well. On our planet, these subsurface waters host only the most extreme forms of life. But elsewhere in the universe, the same conditions might be as hospitable as a planet gets.”

McMurdo reeks with extra-terrestrial feelings. I knew an ice geologist who was based around there for a couple of years and he always felt as if he was on another planet.

First person to cycle to the South Pole!

Shortly before Christmas, we heard about 35 year-old British adventurer Maria Leijerstam’s planned attempt to ride to the South Pole on a recumbent fat-tired tricycle. On December 27th at 1am GMT, she achieved that goal, becoming the first person to ever successfully cycle from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the Pole.

Leijerstam used a modified version of the commercially-available Sprint trike, made by recumbent tricycle manufacturer Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE). She chose to go with a recumbent trike because it would allow her to maintain stability in the often very-high winds. This allowed her to concentrate simply on moving forward, instead of having to waste time and effort keeping her balance.

The strategy paid off, as she not only made it, but also beat two other cyclists who had set out for the Pole on two-wheelers, days before her Dec. 17th start date. Her victory wasn’t just due to the fact that she could move faster, but also because the stability of her trike allowed her to take a different route that was shorter but technically more challenging.

That “shorter” route was nonetheless approximately 644 km long, stretching from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, up over Leverett Glacier, and onward to the South Pole.

Bravo! Difficult enough to develop, plan and build the whole process of a challenge like this. That took two years of training in Siberia, Norway and Iceland.

Having the courage, stamina and complete physical skill to win a first like this one – is worth worldwide recognition.

Sea snails begin to show impact of more acidic ocean


Wing foot pteropod

The shells of some marine snails in the seas around Antarctica are dissolving as the water becomes more acidic, threatening the food chain, said a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience…

Oceans soak up about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year and as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase from burning fossil fuels, so do ocean levels, making seas more acidic.

Ocean acidification is one of the effects of climate change and threatens coral reefs, marine ecosystems and wildlife.

The shell of the pteropod sea snail in the Southern Ocean was severely dissolved by more acidic surface water, the researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research…NOAA and other institutions found.

And although the snails did not necessarily die, it increased their vulnerability to predators and infection which could affect other parts of the food chain.

“The corrosive properties of the water caused shells of live animals to be severely dissolved and this demonstrates how vulnerable pteropods are,” said lead author Nina Bednaršek, from the NOAA.

…Until now, there has been little evidence of the impact of ocean acidification on such live organisms in their natural environment and the study supports predictions that acidification could have a significant effect on marine ecosystems…

Climate models forecast more intense winds in the Southern Ocean this century if CO2 continues to increase, which will make the mixing of deep water with more acidic surface waters more frequent, the study said.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30 percent, according to NOAA research.

The authors of the study predict surface waters could be 150 % more acidic by the end of this century.

Keep messing with my scungilli and I’m getting really pissed off!

Melting ice sheets now largest contributor to a rising sea level

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new study. The findings of the study – the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass – suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth’s mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted…

The nearly 20-year study reveals that in 2006, a year in which comparable results for mass loss in mountain glaciers and ice caps are available from a separate study conducted using other methods, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets lost a combined mass of 475 gigatonnes a year on average. That’s enough to raise global sea level by an average of 1.3 millimeters (.05 inches) a year. (A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds.) Ice sheets are defined as being larger than 50,000 square kilometers, or 20,000 square miles, and only exist in Greenland and Antarctica while ice caps are areas smaller than 50,000 square km.

The pace at which the polar ice sheets are losing mass was found to be accelerating rapidly. Each year over the course of the study, the two ice sheets lost a combined average of 36.3 gigatonnes more than they did the year before. In comparison, the 2006 study of mountain glaciers and ice caps estimated their loss at 402 gigatonnes a year on average, with a year-over-year acceleration rate three times smaller than that of the ice sheets.

That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising — they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers,” said lead author Eric Rignot, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine. “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening. If present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Our study helps reduce uncertainties in near-term projections of sea level rise.”

Rignot’s team combined nearly two decades (1992-2009) of monthly satellite measurements with advanced regional atmospheric climate model data to examine changes in ice sheet mass and trends in acceleration of ice loss…

The team found that for each year over the 18-year study, the Greenland ice sheet lost mass faster than it did the year before, by an average of 21.9 gigatonnes a year. In Antarctica, the year-over-year speedup in ice mass lost averaged 14.5 gigatonnes…

While this provides one indication of the potential contribution ice sheets could make to sea level in the coming century, the authors caution that considerable uncertainties remain in estimating future ice loss acceleration.

The inherent conservatism of bona fide scientists once again accounts for the element of a “surprising” rate of melting. Not that it means much to pundits or politicians committed to fossil fuel funding. Or, sadly, a populace in general that’s hardly past WW2 in terms of general understanding of science.

The flywheel effect is so strong that even when people are pushed far enough, no longer being able to ignore reality – it will take generations to begin to halt and then reverse the effects of global warming.

Thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming


Good thing there’s no permafrost in the United States, eh?

Up to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost likely will disappear by 2200 as a result of warming temperatures, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The carbon resides in permanently frozen ground that is beginning to thaw in high latitudes from warming temperatures, which will impact not only the climate but also international strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions, said CU-Boulder’s Kevin Schaefer, lead study author. “If we want to hit a target carbon dioxide concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously thought to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost,” he said. “Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want.”

The escaping carbon comes from plant material, primarily roots trapped and frozen in soil during the last glacial period that ended roughly 12,000 years ago, he said. Schaefer, a research associate at CU-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, an arm of CIRES, likened the mechanism to storing broccoli in a home freezer. “As long as it stays frozen, it stays stable for many years,” he said. “But if you take it out of the freezer it will thaw out and decay.”

While other studies have shown carbon has begun to leak out of permafrost in Alaska and Siberia, the study by Schaefer and his colleagues is the first to make actual estimates of future carbon release from permafrost

Schaefer and his team ran multiple Arctic simulations assuming different rates of temperature increases to forecast how much carbon may be released globally from permafrost in the next two centuries. They estimate a release of roughly 190 billion tons of carbon, most of it in the next 100 years…

“The amount we expect to be released by permafrost is equivalent to half of the amount of carbon released since the dawn of the Industrial Age,” said Schaefer. The amount of carbon predicted for release between now and 2200 is about one-fifth of the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere today, according to the study…

Greater reductions in fossil fuel emissions to account for carbon released by the permafrost will be a daunting global challenge, Schaefer said. “The problem is getting more and more difficult all the time,” he said. “It is hard enough to reduce the emissions in any case, but now we have to reduce emissions even more. We think it is important to get that message out now.”

Using importance and science in the same sentence won’t mean much to politicians, pundits – or the pipsqueaks who prance around at the behest of fossil fuel profiteers. And the average consumer isn’t as likely to be impressed by computational analysis as how much their pocketbook is being squeezed for fuel oil and gasoline.

Fortunately, the Oil Patch Boys and their bubbas in the Middle east are doing a reasonably effective job of the last-named activity.

Best case scenario: Climate change to continue to year 3000

New research indicates the impact of rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects to the climate for at least the next 1000 years, causing researchers to estimate a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet by the year 3000, and an eventual rise in the global sea level of at least four metres.

The study…is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions out to 1000 years from now. It is based on best-case, ’zero-emissions’ scenarios constructed by a team of researchers from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis…and the University of Calgary.

“We created ‘what if’ scenarios,” says Dr. Shawn Marshall, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change and University of Calgary geography professor. “What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere? How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?”  The research team explored zero-emissions scenarios beginning in 2010 and in 2100.

The Northern Hemisphere fares better than the south in the computer simulations, with patterns of climate change reversing within the 1000-year timeframe in places like Canada. At the same time parts of North Africa experience desertification as land dries out by up to 30 percent, and ocean warming of up to 5°C off of Antarctica is likely to trigger widespread collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, a region the size of the Canadian prairies…

Researchers will next begin to investigate more deeply the impact of atmosphere temperature on ocean temperature to help determine the rate at which West Antarctica could destabilize and how long it may take to fully collapse into the water.

My first response to reading this was, “Cripes! One more excuse for Know-Nothings to Do-Nothing.”

The follow-on to that is that they aren’t going to do anything sensible, responsible, constructive – anyway. Political reactionaries, ethical and social ignoranuses never have responded to science and reason with anything other than fear and scorn. That is what limits their species to the superstitions that bound their comprehension of reality.

Everyone else will continue on with educated politics and the construction of appropriate means to respond to changing circumstances. As we always have done.

Commercial harbors and business centers in Shanghai, Auckland and Vancouver will be altered or relocated. The leaders of Texas will kneel and pray for a miracle while Houston sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

RTFA for more detail.

Giant iceberg could affect ocean circulation, weather

An iceberg the size of Luxembourg has broken off from a glacier in Antarctica after being rammed by another giant iceberg, scientists said on Friday, in an event that could affect ocean circulation patterns.

The 2,500 sq km iceberg broke off earlier this month from the Mertz Glacier’s 160 km floating tongue of ice that sticks out into the Southern Ocean…

“The calving itself hasn’t been directly linked to climate change but it is related to the natural processes occurring on the ice sheet,” said Rob Massom, a senior scientist…at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center…

Massom said the shearing off of the ice tongue and the presence of the Mertz and B-9B icebergs could affect global ocean circulation.

The area is an important zone for the creation of dense, salty water that is a key driver of global ocean circulation. This is produced in part through the rapid production of sea ice that is continually blown to the west.

“Removal of this tongue of floating ice would reduce the size of that area of open water, which would slow down the rate of salinity input into the ocean and it could slow down this rate of Antarctic bottom water formation,” he said.

He said there was a risk both icebergs would become grounded on banks or shoals in the area, disrupting the creation of the dense, salty water and the amount that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, he said.

Oceans act like a giant flywheel for the planet’s climate by shifting heat around the globe via myriad currents above and below the surface.

There’s not much hope for either climate deniers or the average Western Whoopee Weather Whiner to make sense of this. I’ve given up even on explaining something as relevant – and simple – as El Niño to bloggers/commenters/dolts who think that a large snowstorm on the eastern coast of a nation accounting for 1.5% of the Earth’s surface somehow means there is no global warming.

The rest of you – fortunately – have enough interest in science and natural processes to find this interesting on its own. I thank all six of you.

Shackleton’s whisky a treasure trove in Antarctica

Three crates of Scotch whisky and two crates of brandy left beneath the floorboards of a hut by the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1909, at the end of a failed expedition to the South Pole, have been unearthed by a team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Al Fastier, who led the team, said the discovery of the brandy was a surprise, according to a news release posted online by the trust. The team had expected to find just two crates of whisky buried under the hut. The trust reported that that ice had cracked some of the crates and formed inside, “which will make the job of extracting the contents very delicate.”

Richard Paterson, a master blender for Whyte & Mackay, which supplied the Shackleton expedition with 25 crates of Mackinlay’s “Rare and Old” whisky, described the unearthing of the bottles as “a gift from the heavens for whisky lovers,” since the recipe for that blend has been lost. “If the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analyzed, the original blend may be able to be replicated.”

Mr. Paterson addressed the question of what the whisky might taste like in a post on his blog when the plan to dig it up was first announced, last year:

Whiskies back then — a harder age — were all quite heavy and peaty as that was the style. And depending on the storage conditions, it may still have that heaviness. For example, it may taste the same as it did back then if the cork has stayed in the bottle and kept it airtight.

The trust’s Web site has a detailed history of the failed expedition, as well as this video on its efforts to preserve the hut built as a base for the Shackleton expedition at Cape Royds, Antarctica, in 1908:

I would give my late father’s left whatchamacallit to sip a dram or two of that whisky. The spirit of Earth’s adventure.