Greenland, Antarctica, melting away, accelerating

Observations from 11 satellite missions monitoring the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have revealed that the regions are losing ice six times faster than they were in the 1990s. If the current melting trend continues, the regions will be on track to match the “worst-case” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of an extra 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) of sea level rise by 2100.

The findings…are the most comprehensive assessment to date of the changing ice sheets. The Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise team combined 26 surveys to calculate changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets between 1992 and 2018…

The team calculated that the two ice sheets together lost 81 billion tons per year in the 1990s, compared with 475 billion tons of ice per year in the 2010s — a sixfold increase. All total, Greenland and Antarctica have lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice since the 1990s…

“Every centimeter of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd [University of Leeds – led the study].

RTFA for more quantitative data. Not likely that many of our politicians will. Maybe if sufficient voters do – and act upon their understanding – we might acquire some useful politicians.

Carbon Dioxide levels set a high of 400ppm in Antarctica

…A new announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday reveals a new benchmark that should kick us in the seat of our pants.

The remaining atmospheric observatory, Antarctica’s South Pole Observatory, has detected atmospheric carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million. Scientists agree that this number is alarming, as the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has remained between 280 to 300ppm until around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when an increase in industrialization and manufacturing pumped higher levels of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. These higher levels of greenhouse gases will bring about increasingly worse levels of destruction via climate change.

After the first observatory, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, recorded 400 ppm three years ago, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have flowed and cycled throughout the globe. From its original spewing out in the northern hemisphere, the greenhouse gas has made it to the southernmost continent….

New studies are showing that 400 ppm may be the new normal for planet Earth, though the levels at observatories may dip and rise as the Earth’s atmosphere cycles.

The last time that the Earth’s atmosphere contained carbon dioxide at 400 ppm was about four million years ago, approximately 3,988,000 years before humans began to roam the Earth.

When we have Congress-punks who believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old and Jeebus will fly into Cleveland for the Republican Convention on the back of a pterodactyl – it’s hard to grow any hope of governmental response to a situation that grows worse the more we learn. Know nothing-politicians aren’t going to become anything other than do nothing-politicians.

Still, there is hope in some parts of North America that the crusade led by Bernie Sanders will continue beyond the November disaster. Grassroots organizing may return to fashion among the bright and concerned. And real political opposition will stand of chance of becoming a force to reckon with.

I certainly hope so.

Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth’s geopolitical boundaries


Click to enlargePeter Convey on his way to the office

From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea – 130 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines…

Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice are lost each year, according to NASA. The water warms from below, causing the ice to retreat on to land, and then the warmer air takes over. Temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average, said Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute…

Robert Island hits all the senses: the stomach-turning smell of penguin poop; soft moss that invites the rare visitor to lie down, as if on a water bed; brown mud, akin to stepping in gooey chocolate. Patches of the moss, which alternates from fluorescent green to rust red, have grown large enough to be football fields. Though 97 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula is still covered with ice, entire valleys are now free of it, ice is thinner elsewhere and glaciers have retreated, Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey said…

A few years back, scientists figured Antarctica as a whole was in balance, neither gaining nor losing ice. Experts worried more about Greenland; it was easier to get to and more noticeable, but once they got a better look at the bottom of the world, the focus of their fears shifted. Now scientists in two different studies use the words “irreversible” and “unstoppable” to talk about the melting in West Antarctica. Ice is gaining in East Antarctica, where the air and water are cooler, but not nearly as much as it is melting to the west.

“Before Antarctica was much of a wild card,” said University of Washington ice scientist Ian Joughin. “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before…”

“Changing the climate of the Earth or thinning glaciers is fine as long as you don’t do it too fast. And right now we are doing it as fast as we can. It’s not good,” said Eric Rignot, of NASA. “We have to stop it; or we have to slow it down as best as we can.”

I understand how short-sighted most folks are. After all, if our politicians only think ahead to the next election, if corporate CEOs only think ahead to the next quarter, if the average person thinks long-term planning means paying off your car – or maybe a home – 100 years or 1000 years is beyond comprehension. But, scientists, especially in a discipline like climatology have to think in geologic time and those wee chunks like 1000 years happen in the blink of an eye. Look over the edge of your TV set, folks. Read, search, include some real science in whatever you add to your thinking life.

Cripes, I remember the first ice geologist I met. I was only 20 and working as a tech in a non-ferrous metals research lab. And with all of his qualifications, the only job he could find here in the States was investigating stress-corrosion cracking – even though he had practically defined the discipline during the couple of years he spent in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year.

I got to spend lunchtimes with him and a few other scientists from the lab who didn’t mind including in a kid who could only afford to go to engineering night school.

He taught us all about geologic time. He tried to teach us about ice.

Our pollution reached Antarctica before the great explorers


Lead pollution from Oz got there first

Lead pollution from Australia reached Antarctica in 1889 – long before the frozen continent’s golden age of exploration – and has remained there ever since, new research shows.

In our study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, my colleagues and I used ice core samples from West and East Antarctica to reveal the continent’s long and persistent history of heavy metal pollution.

The Antarctic remains the most remote and pristine place on Earth. Yet despite its isolation, our findings show that it has not escaped contamination from traces of industrial lead, a serious pollutant and neurotoxin. The levels of lead pollution found in the ice cores is too low to impact Antarctic ecosystems, but higher levels would be expected closer to sources…

The new study, led by Dr Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, used an array of Antarctic ice cores to reveal a detailed record of where and when pollution can be found.

The first trace of lead pollution arrived in Antarctica around 1889, 22 years before the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to the South Pole.

We also discovered that lead pollution in the Antarctic peaked twice, and that in both cases Australia was the primary source.

After an initial peak in the late 1920s, lead levels dropped in sync with the Great Depression and Second World War. The pollution peaked again in about 1975.

Today, although levels are lower than at the 1975 peak, they remain at roughly three times the pre-industrial level…

More analysis will help us unlock more of Antarctica’s secrets. If you’ll excuse the pun, our latest results are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to information stored in the Antarctic ice sheet.

For example, fires in the Southern Hemisphere have left traces in the ice and a history of climate. The history of persistent organic pollutants and mercury in the remote south are still poorly known. Colleagues at CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation are using ice cores to understand the past variability of greenhouse gases and the Sun. Combined with records from tree rings, sediments and caves, ice cores help to recreate a large-scale reconstruction of past sea level pressure.

Meanwhile, Antarctica continues to serve as a sentinel for unintended consequences of human activities – in this case, the pollution of a pristine frozen wasteland by an Australian mining product.

Today’s abusers of the word “conservative” will continue on their plastic primrose path to the destruction of Earth’s biosphere given any opportunity at all. Unlike their predecessors – for whom conservative also meant conservator of the Earth – prattle about denial is all they have to offer their children and grandchildren when they grow old enough to accuse them of rejecting human responsibility for polluting limited resources. Including the transformation of our climate at a radical pace.

When science points out the corruption of our planet, the response of these cowards is simply to deny science.

ESA’s shiny new Sentinel-1A satellite returns first Earth photos


Click to enlarge – Image of a transect across the northern section of the Antarctic Peninsula

ESA’s Sentinel-1A satellite has returned its first images of Earth from space in its second week of achieving orbit. The satellite, having been launched on Apr. 3. has only recently undergone a complicated maneuver to extend its 10 meter solar wings and 12 meter radar imaging array.

There are due to be six constellations of two Sentinel satellites designed to image the Earth, in part to observe climate change as a part of the Copernicus program. The satellite is not yet positioned in its operational orbit, nor is it fully calibrated to supply true data to the mission. However, the images taken on Apr. 12 are a truly stunning example of the observational capabilities of the cutting-edge satellite…

Over the next three months, the satellite will run through its commissioning phase, during which it will achieve operational orbit and be calibrated to begin what will be the most ambitious and largest Earth observation mission ever undertaken.

Lovely work. And much more knowledge to be gained about our planet.

Volunteer invasive plant species hitchhiking into Antarctica

Annual bluegrass (above), the same weed that plagues gardens and golf courses around the world, is one of hundreds of alien species now invading Antarctica.

The icy continent’s only two native grasses have experienced a growth spurt as temperatures rise and ice melts, and biologists worry that the same conditions will facilitate an alien invasion that will threaten native ecosystems.

In a new effort to stem the onslaught, a team of biologists assessed the likelihood that these foreign species would take up residence on the icy continent, both now and by the year 2100, when the climate will likely be considerably warmer.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they mapped “hot spots” where invasive plants are most likely to take root (warm colors in the map below):

Despite “Don’t Pack a Pest” campaigns and plenty of good intentions, tourists and scientists carry thousands of seeds and other detachable plant parts to the southern continent each year in Velcro hems, knit caps and dirty bootlaces.

For the new continent-wide assessment, Steven L. Chown of Stellenbosch University in Matieland, South Africa, and his colleagues sampled, identified, and mapped the sources and destinations of more than 2,600 plant parts that hitched a ride to Antarctica during 2007 and 2008. They found that each visitor transported fewer than 10 seeds on average, but the 30,000-plus Antarctic visitors per year were sufficient for invasive species to establish themselves on the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

Annual bluegrass is one of the true pioneers among them. This plant has been taking root near research stations for at least 25 years, but last year Polish biologists reported its intrepid spread into non-disturbed areas, some 1.5 kilometers from the nearest research station on the moraines of a retreating glacier on King George Island.

Human beings are as dangerous to wilderness eco-systems as rats.

Young mountains on an old continent — Gamburtsev range solved

Scientists say they can now explain the existence of what are perhaps Earth’s most extraordinary mountains.

The Gamburtsevs are the size of the European Alps and yet they are totally buried beneath the Antarctic ice. Their discovery in the 1950s was a major surprise. Most people had assumed the rock bed deep within the continent would be flat and featureless.

Survey data now suggests the range first formed over a billion years ago, researchers tell the journal Nature.

The Gamburtsevs are important because they are thought to be the location where the ice sheet we know today initiated its march across Antarctica. Unravelling the mountains’ history will therefore inform climate studies, helping scientists to understand not just past changes on Earth but possible future scenarios as well…

This multinational effort in 2008/2009 flew aircraft back and forth across the east of the White Continent, mapping the shape of the hidden mountain system using ice-penetrating radar. Other instruments recorded the local gravitational and magnetic fields, while seismometers were employed to probe the deep Earth.

The AGAP team believes all this data can now be meshed into a credible narrative for the Gamburtsevs’ creation and persistence through geological time…

“This research really solves the mystery of how you can have young-looking mountains in the middle of an old continent,” said US principal investigator Dr Robin Bell from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

“In this case, the original Gamburtsevs probably completely eroded away only to come back, phoenix-like. They’ve had two lives,” she told BBC News…

The search also goes on for a suitable place in the range to drill for ancient ice.

By examining bubbles of air trapped in compacted snow, it is possible for researchers to glean details about past environmental conditions, including temperature and the concentration of gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide.

Somewhere in the Gamburtsev region there ought to be a location where ices can be retrieved that are more than a million years old. This would be at least 200,000 years older than the most ancient Antarctic ice cores currently in the possession of scientists.

RTFA. Please. Another interesting addition to paleo-climatology and geology.

The past is always prologue – in the physical sense as well as metaphor.

Thanks, Ursarodinia