By David L. Brown
There has been a lot of scuttlebutt lately about how global warming isn’t real, climate change isn’t happening, that it is a “plot” by left-wing loonies, etc. So the news today from Antarctica that a huge ice shelf the size of Northern Ireland appears to be breaking up comes as a timely reminder that, yes, there really is something serious going on and it cannot be denied.
Here is a picture from the LiveScience.com web site which has the story. The photo shows a view of the Wilkins Ice Shelf taken from an airplane by the British Antarctic Survey:
As reported by staff writer Andrea Thompson in the article on the LiveScience site:
A vast ice shelf hanging on by a thin strip looks to be the next chunk to break off from the Antarctic Peninsula, the latest sign of global warming’s impact on Earth’s southernmost continent.
Scientists are shocked by the rapid change of events.
Glaciologist Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado was monitoring satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and spotted a huge iceberg measuring 25 miles by 1.5 miles (41 kilometers by 2.5 kilometers — about 10 times the area of Manhattan) that appeared to have broken away from the shelf.
Scambos alerted colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that it looked like the entire ice shelf — about 6,180 square miles (16,000 square kilometers — about the size of Northern Ireland)— was at risk of collapsing.
David Vaughan of the BAS had predicted in 1993 that the northern part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf was likely to be lost within 30 years if warming on the Peninsula continued at the same rate.
“Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread — we’ll know in the next few days and weeks what its fate will be.”
I have written here before about my suspicion that ice sheets and the Arctic ice cap will be melting faster than climate models predict. Last Summer’s surprising retreat of the Arctic ice provided evidence that my guess could be right. Now this latest news from Antarctica adds more weight to the argument. If it was predicted in 1993 that the Wilkins ice shelf could break up within 30 years, that would place the event in 2023, fifteen years from now. If the shelf does indeed proceed to break up now, in 2008, that would mean the rate of decline has accelerated by a large margin.
Natural events do not tend to take place gradually, but rather as tipping points are reached. In other words, suddenly and with little warning. The accelerating loss of ice sheets, ice shelves, sea ice and glaciers all over the world should be all the evidence anyone should need that global warming is taking place.
But of course, it snowed in Vermont last week so there cannot be any global warming. In fact, it was particularly cold, so global cooling is actually what we are experiencing. Yes, that is typical of the kind of claims I see every day from clueless global warming deniers. Like Nero fiddling as Rome burned, these people will continue to deny the truth no matter what facts may exist.
By the way, just to make the record clear, I am not a “left-wing looney,” far from it. Some might call me right-wing, but I have remained an Independent and consider myself to be a center right with more conservative economic views.
But when it comes to the subject at hand, climate change, I have made a study of this subject over many years by reading hundreds of books and thousands of articles. My opinions are based on a bit more than the fact that it might be cold outside my house at some particular time, which is the kind of thin gruel upon which many climate change deniers base their claims. Most reputable scientists, and especially those whose specialties lie within the appropriate fields, have been convinced of the truth of global warming and its effects. We need not pay attention to the opinions of those holding Ph.D. degrees in sociology, art appreciation or psychology.
Here is some additional information about the on-going breakup of the Wilkins ice sheet, again from LiveScience.com:
The region where the Wilkins Ice Shelf lies has experienced unprecedented warming in the past 50 years, with several ice shelves retreating in the past 30 years. Six of these ice shelves have collapsed completely: Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and the Jones Ice Shelf.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf was stable for most of the last century until it began retreating in the 1990s. A previous major breakout occurred there in 1998 when 390 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of ice was lost in just a few months.
“We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years, but warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing it to break up,” Scambos said.
The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere; temperature records show that the region has warmed by nearly 3 degrees Celsius during the past 50 years — several times the global average and only matched in Alaska.
As mentioned, the breakup of the ice shelves surrounding Antarctica will not contribute to sea level rise because the ice is already floating in the sea. However, those shelves act like a cork in a bottle to flowing ice sheets coming down from the interior. As the ice sheets break up, the flow of ice into the sea speeds up and that does contribute to sea level increases. The same effect is being observed at the Earth’s other major ice sheet in Greenland, where rapid acceleration of melting is also taking place.