“Ground Zero” Moves to Antarctica

Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap (alt. 17,950 ft.), the world’s largest tropical ice cap, will likely lose another 400-600 feet of ice before the final presidential nominating debates in March/April 2016. All of which brings to mind, wouldn’t it be interesting to ask the prospective presidential nominees this question: What are the implications of Antarctica suddenly becoming “ground zero” for global warming?

Apart from dumbfounded stares, their boilerplate answer will likely be: “I am not a scientist, the climate always changes, blah, blah, blah.” Rumor has it Republican operatives came up with these clever rejoinders at one of their confabs in ultra-secretive preparation for capturing or cratering the presidency, depending. Some Democrats may fall back on the same rote answer, but probably not.

Furthermore, there is good reason for the Arctic to be conjoined with Antarctica for “ground zero status.” According to NSIDC, Arctic sea ice during the winter of 2014-2015 in March has ominously hit such low levels that it could set a seasonal low record if it persists. Hopefully, excessive loss of ice this upcoming summer does not turn lose too much methane (CH4), a potential lights-out scenario within current lifetimes.

Beyond the twin biggies of Antarctica and the Arctic, glaciers spoil most of the world’s population rotten. After all, billions of people simply turn on faucets, ship goods on rivers, generate electricity, and irrigate crops at no expense because of free water. That’s right, it is free because of nature’s bountiful glacial water towers. It’s the deal of a lifetime!

But, in time, it may be too good to be true.  Glaciers are suffering devastating blows because of global warming!  However, it’s doubtful that any of the presidential office-seekers are aware of this upcoming calamity. After all, they’re way too busy raising money to think about melting glaciers, honestly!

Anyway, the candidates should bone up on the issue, just to sound smart, because glaciers store 75% of the world’s freshwater.

Still, whenever grilled about the issue, the candidates will likely opt out by saying “I am not a scientist, blah, blah, blah”. So, maybe the question should be framed this way: “Does heat melt ice?”

Answer: Yes.

Massive Threat

“The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia. China and India are the world’s leading producers of both wheat and rice—humanity’s food staples… [Furthermore] according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], the Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and many could melt entirely by 2035.”1

According to Yao Tandong, a leading glaciologist in China, “If this melting of glaciers continues… [It] will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe.”

In 2014, the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported the Tibetan glaciers experienced the most intense heat in 2,000 years. Indeed, seventy percent (70%) of the glaciers at the headwaters of the commercially active Lancang River, the “Danube of the East,” are gone, melted away.2

In certain regions of Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap the melt rate is 600 feet per year or 40 times faster than a few decades ago, threatening loss of electricity (Peru is 76% hydropower), irrigation, and drinking water.

“Melting glaciers are an icon of anthropogenic climate change.”3

Marzeion’s study found unambiguous evidence of very sharp increases in anthropogenic ice loss over just the past few decades. His evidence runs in parallel with cumulative buildup of CO2 emissions now at 400 ppm, the February 2015 monthly average at Mauna Loa.

Beware, according to very recent “preliminary data” from Earth System Research Laboratory at Mauna Loa, as of March 14th, CO2 registered 402.28 ppm.  This is +2.28 ppm in just a couple of weeks versus an average annual rate of change of +2.11 ppm ever since 2005-2014. Is it a troublesome trend spiking up? Nobody wants to see that happen!  Nobody!

Ground Zero 85% of World’s Ice

Still, the really, really big news is this: “Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt.”4

Antarctica has been the subject of controversial statements by “certain parties,” claiming the ice is expanding. Evidently, “certain parties” rely upon “surface evidence” and only “look east,” thus ignoring the western region and ignoring: Down below, where the ice meets the water, Harvard geophysicist Dr. Mitrovica discovered an altogether different story. “Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans… 130 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations.”

Not only that: “’Temperatures [in Antarctica] rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average,” says Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute, evidence various latitudes are seriously heating up!

“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.”

Accordingly, ice scientist Ian Joughin, University of Washington states: “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before.”

NASA ice scientist Eric Rignot says the melting “is going way faster than anyone had thought. It’s kind of a red flag. What’s happening is simple physics. Warm water eats away at the ice from underneath…The world’s fate hangs on the question of how fast the ice melts,”

Argo floats, 3,300+ worldwide, measure heat content in the oceans, accordingly, the Journal of Geophysical Research says the oceans carry a considerable load of the planet’s heat. Antarctica is proving it.

Catastrophe Hinges on Antarctica (altogether with the Arctic)

Worldwide ice melt is setting records, left and right, surprising scientists year-over-year; for example, the recent research in Antarctica surprised scientists. In fact, science cannot keep up with the speed of melt. Ipso facto, what does this say about the prospects for Antarctica? Ask the presidential candidates… no, no, no scratch that. Again, what does the tantalizing speed of worldwide melt say about Antarctica’s prospects?

“Scientists have long worried that the West Antarctic ice sheet is a place where climate change might tip toward catastrophe.”5

“Melting Antarctic glaciers that are large enough to raise worldwide sea level by more than a meter are dropping a Mount Everest’s worth of ice into the sea every two years,” according to a new study.6 Remarkably, cascading ice tripled!

A second recent study,7 explains the accelerating ice melt. Warm ocean water is melting the floating ice shelves that hold back the glaciers, further confirmation the oceans have been absorbing much of Earth’s heat.

Those two pieces of new research were issued just before officials of the World Meteorological Organization announced 2014 as the “warmest”/hottest year on record.

Current predictions of sea level rise may understate the risk because they don’t accurately take into account shoaling of warm water in the Antarctic, says Sarah Gille, an oceanographer at the University of California, San Diego.

According to glaciologist Richard Alley, Pennsylvania State University, historical studies have shown that ice sheets can remain stable for centuries or millennia and then switch to a different configuration, suddenly. “If another sudden switch happens in West Antarctica, sea level could rise a lot, so understanding what is going on at the grounding lines is essential.8

Congress turns its back on Global Warming

Considering the widely held belief in the halls of Congress that humans are not behind climate change, if it’s not anthropogenic global warming, then, what is it?

Inasmuch as Congress does not have a serious interest in understanding or investigating the global warming issue, it’s difficult to gain much intelligence from America’s most prominent class of leadership, ahem. Congressional disinterest is unambiguous, evidenced by no renewable energy plan, none whatsoever, not even a “trial balloon.”

Since Congress is totally clueless in the face of the biggest worldwide melt down in modern history, hopefully America’s presidential aspirants will provide some fresh ideas at their upcoming debates. For sure, they must have strong leadership qualities if they are running for president.

After all, sooner or later anthropogenic glacial loss will become the hottest political issue the world has ever witnessed, and then some. Somebody’s gotta start prepping!

Speaking of which, according to The Washington Post, January 21, 2015, Republicans are now in control of both houses: “Climate-Change Skeptics Cruz and Rubio Now Help Oversee Nation’s Climate Science.”

Hmm, those two will be in the debates.

  1. Lester R. Brown, “Melting Mountain Glaciers Will Shrink Grain Harvests in China and India”, Earth Policy Institute. []
  2. “Glaciers on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Melting Fast”, China.org.cn, October 21, 2011. []
  3. Ben Marzeion, Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, et al, “Attribution of Global Glacier Mass Loss to Anthropogenic and Natural Causes”,  Science 22, Vol. 345, no. 6199, August 2014. []
  4. Harvard geophysicists Jerry X. Mitrovica, et al, “The Big Melt: Antarctica’s Retreating Ice May Re-Shape Earth”, Associated Press, February 27, 20 15. []
  5. Warren Cornwall for National Geographic, Warming Seas Drive Rapid Acceleration of Melting Antarctica Ice, National Geographic News, December 4, 2014. []
  6. Tyler C. Sutterley, et al, West Antarctic Melt Rate Has Tripled, American Geophysical Union, December 2, 2014. []
  7. Sunke Schmidtko, et al, “Multidecadal Warming of Antarctic Waters”, Science 5, Vol. 346 no. 6214, December 5, 2014 []
  8. Ker Than, “Friction Means Antarctic Glaciers More Sensitive to Climate Change Than We Thought”, Caltech, March 10, 2015. []
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