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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Peter Clark, David Braaten, Hugh Ducklow, Douglas Martinson, Chris Field: Antarctica is heating up fast scientists warn

Antarctica is heating up fast, a Kansas researcher and other scientists warn

-- No longer is David Braaten constantly cocooned in his red super parka. He left the insta-freeze winds of the Antarctic interior in January.

But as cold as the trip was for the University of Kansas scientist, he recognizes what one discovery after the next has demonstrated this year: It's getting remarkably warm for down there, and it's heating up incredibly fast.

"We're trying to find out what's happening to the ice," said Braaten, the deputy director of the KU-based Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets.

Even as changing climate brings more moisture, and ice, to Antarctica's center, on its edges the frozen continent is becoming less so. Melting skyscrapers of ice crash into the ocean at ever faster rates.

That's raising sea levels, disrupting ocean food chains and reducing the region's ability to moderate the planet's climate.

Climate scientists once were befuddled about why Antarctica seemed, if anything, to be cooling while the rest of the world got toastier. It turns out the bottom of the world has been warming after all.

"More is happening than we thought, and it's happening faster," said Douglas Martinson, who studies the impact of polar oceans on global climate at Columbia University.

Average winter temperatures on the Antarctica peninsula -- changing more than the rest of the continent -- have risen 11 degrees since 1950. That's five times the global warm-up and disastrous to the ice shelves that hang over water and act as corks to bottle up glaciers on land.

In 1950, the Wilkins Ice Shelf was bonded to Antarctica with a 62-mile wide block of ice. Now it clings by an hourglass-shaped link that narrows to just a third of a mile. The Jamaica-size shelf could tumble into the ocean any time.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization said northern Arctic sea ice shrunk to its lowest in the summers of 2007 and 2008 since satellites began watching 30 years ago.

The Southern Ocean, meanwhile, is warming at rates faster than the rest of the Earth.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously," Chris Field of Stanford University told a meeting in Chicago.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won a Nobel Prize for its scientific consensus on the reality of global warming from human activity. Fresh research suggests the vaunted report lowballed the pace of the problem.

The changes seen now are much faster and parallel the increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January that although 2008 was one of the world's coolest years this decade, it was still the ninth warmest on record. Since 1880, 10 of the warmest years are since 1997.

A recent column by conservative George Will, in which he argued that concerns about global warming were overwrought and unfounded, was condemned by mainstream climate scientists both for his conclusion and his specifics.

For instance, he said that "global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979." But the very authority he cited, the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, said the amount of sea ice in the world was down about 8% over the last three decades, or the equivalent of "Texas, California and Oklahoma combined."

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet covers a third of the continent as well as great expanses of the Weddell and Ross seas.

Fortunately, no one foresees its collapse for centuries, as it could be more catastrophic than previously understood. A recent paper in the journal Science predicted it would shift the planet's axis by a third of a mile and send rising waters sloshing northward.

"It's the difference between spinning a ball with a lump of something on the side, or taking that material and distributing it more evenly around the surface," said Peter Clark, a geosciences professor at Oregon State University.

Scientists had believed such an ice dump would universally raise ocean levels 16.5 feet worldwide, but new computer modeling suggests the shores of North America could face yet five feet more of water.

Braaten and his colleagues try to sort out the complicated question of how much ice still exists. They experiment with high-tech flights to decipher how deep the snow and ice is.

"When you're there, you just see that it looks flat," Braaten said. "Flatter than Nebraska."

But beneath -- the glaciers average 1.5 miles thick in Eastern Antarctica -- sit undulating mountain ranges for Braaten and his colleagues to chart.

Understanding that terrain below and the glaciers piled on top will offer a better idea how much ice may be accumulating in Antarctica's middle -- a consequence of climate change bringing more moisture to the region -- and how much is calving away at the edges.

Particularly on the Antarctica peninsula to the west, the rapid retreat of sea ice has profound consequences for penguins and other wildlife.

"Penguins and seals and whales need that sea ice," said Hugh Ducklow, who also returned from Antarctica to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. "All these ice-loving species are contracting their ranges to the south," chasing after the ice.

The average time per year the ocean around the peninsula is covered by sea ice has fallen by 90 days since 1978. Whaling records suggest the ice began to withdraw as early as the 1930s.

That's meant tiny invertebrates like krill -- which hide from predators and feed on plant matter that grows in the ice -- decline when the ice declines. So do the fish that feed on them, and so on.

"The Arctic was the canary in the coal mine, and we didn't pay much attention when it got sick," said Martinson. "Now the penguins are the canaries down there, and they're not looking too good."

Link to article:


Anonymous said...

It appears that some people think that because of one paper from Steig, that "Antarctica is warming after all".

What they don't know is the amount of error in the weather station data and in the statistical analysis.

Here is one example of why the study (and conclusion) is suspect:

Anonymous said...

See, this is a perfect example of the whole problem with you guys.

Steig went through the peer-review process (which was never meant to catch all errors or to be perfect) and published his research for everybody to see and criticize any way they wanted to. That is how science is supposed to work.

But your guys don't go through the peer-review process, they just exist on the blog.

Have them write an article, submit it for publication, and let the world have at it, just like real scientists, and then maybe you would get some respect.

Anonymous said...


My standard refrain to these people is always: show me your science. Of course, they never do because it simply does not exist.

While you and I know where the denialist lies come from, many Americans - god, are we a stupid lot - believe this trash. They ALL need to watch "The American Denial of Global Warming." It lays out the process by which the Marshall Institute created the anti-AGW Big Lie, and still does - with no science whatsoever. Along with Exxon and the BuCheney administration.

The saddest thing is how mindless people have to be to accept such utter B.S. when they can provide ZERO science!

When the cities start going under and temps have risen 3C or more, perhaps then - too late - we shall see EcoNuremberg and people held to account for lying with malice aforethought.


Anonymous said...

I believe that obstinancy is an evolved trait that we actually need to have as a species to survive under difficult circumstances, but it can also lead people down the wrong path with disastrous consequences.

These people will have their heads in the sand until the water comes up over them.

Anonymous said...

What they don't know is the amount of error in the weather station data and in the statistical analysis.

Bull. they do. It's right HERE:

What people may not know is that YOU are a liar. Your comments here and your supposed analysis on your site are outright lies. All data error issues are dealt with at the above link. They change nothing.

Given you are not a scientist and do not produce science, just who the hell do you think you are?


Anonymous said...

Hey ccpo, you might want to delete that and then recopy it but with it addressed to watts -- LOLOLOL

FredT said...

Stones never change, because they're dead.

I suspect "denyers" will keep on saying "it's not important", "it has always happened", and "global warming is a scam" even when the North Pole has melted, in a near future.

So, as they won't change, we can consider they're just not alive.

None of them has ever answered to this question : "what would make you admit AGW is REAL ?"...

Anonymous said...

LOLOL -- they never listen to anything, their brains just close down, they can't get beyond a certain point and use innane arguments, get emotional, use buzzwords, haul out senile old professors who have no idea what they are talking about, wish upon a star -- it is sad.