Monday, October 22, 2007

Ice Melt - Global Warming

From the Washington Post comes this three part article about global warming. I comment, not necessarily because I have an on-going interest in all things Antarctic, which I do, but because of the source of my interest. I spent 3 austral summers in Antarctica as part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Deep Freeze during the 1970s.

These lead me to believe that warming is occurring much faster than scientists had thought just a few years ago.

The air over the western Antarctic peninsula has warmed by nearly 6 degrees since 1950. The sea there is heating as well, further melting edges of the ice cap. Green grass and beech trees are taking root on the ice fringes.
. . .

What is most alarming to the scientists is the speed at which it is unfolding. A decade ago, melting at the poles was predicted to play out over 100 years. Instead, it is happening on a scale scientists describe as overnight.

This is a more extensive quote, but I urge the reader to read the whole article.
The northern Arctic is changing first, and most noticeably. But the changes there are likely to be followed by a "one-plus-two-plus-three punch" in the southern polar region, said Ellen Mosley-Thompson, at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University. She has been drilling and measuring ice in polar regions and mountain glaciers for 25 years, and has lived in frigid tents and battled brutal weather for weeks at a time to get ice core samples.

The Antarctic has sent complicated signals, she said. The interior is "a monstrously large ice sheet that creates its own microclimate." Winds circling Antarctica have buffered it, so average temperatures on the continent have changed little in 50 years and the snowpack in the interior has been growing.

Furthermore, Antarctica's ice sits on land, and the warming of even the most gloomy predictions is unlikely to make a big dent in that huge ice pack very soon.

But western Antarctica and the peninsula that juts northward have a different weather scheme. The air over the Antarctic peninsula is one of three places on the globe with the fastest heating; Arctic western Canada and Alaska and the high mountains of China and Tibet are the others. The sea water also is heating, accelerating the breakup of ice shelves that stick out over the sea. When they go, the glaciers on land behind them begin to accelerate their slide to the sea, adding to global sea levels.

"We thought the Southern Hemisphere climate is inherently more stable," Scanbos said. But "all of the time scales seem to be shortened now. These things can happen fairly quickly. A decade or two decades of warming is all you need to really change the mass balance.

"Things are on more of a hair trigger than we thought."

I do not believe any political leaders have the will to work with other world leaders in taking the drastic steps needed to slow down, much less stop the melting of the ice.

I wonder how much money will be spent to "hold back" the waters around Miami and Manhattan and other low lying areas in the futile construction of dykes. Islands in the Indus River and the southwest Pacific Ocean have already disappeared. In 20 years most of Florida, including the Keys will be under water.

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