Prescott on Ice (Melting)

An iceberg melting in Kulusuk, Greenland. Photograph: John McConnico/AP

Yesterday I got the following info in an email from friend William Prescott (way back in the seventies we co-edited the magazine Sixpack) — Prescott has been deeply involved with the questions of Climate Change for decades now:

The IPCC warns that it may be too late to save the ice caps. Ugh huh. An IPCC panel concluded there is a 50% chance that widespread ice sheet loss “may no longer be avoided” because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such melting would raise sea levels by four to six metres. You can read the article here.

Of course the real situation is much worse than depicted by this UN report. Yesterday I read this in the Independent and this on the BBC news site. You have to read the Brit papers to find out what’s actually going on with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“We’ve found that there are substantial subglacial lakes under ice that’s moving a couple of metres per day. It’s really ripping along. It’s the fast-moving ice that determines how the ice sheet responds to climate change on a short timescale,” said Robert Bindschadler, a Nasa scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, one of the study’s co-authors.

“We didn’t realise that the water under these ice streams was moving in such large quantities, and on such short time scales. We thought these changes took place over years and decades, but we are seeing large changes over months. The detected motions are astonishing in magnitude, dynamic nature and spatial extent,” Dr Fricker said.

The study was conducted using the Icesat satellite, 600 kilometres up in space.

How will this influence the movement of ice toward the sea? They don’t want to say yet, but…”It’s essentially the grease on the wheel,” said Professor Bindschadler.

What does this mean? Well, it will take years for them to admit the obvious, but it means that parts of the West Antarctic ice shelf will fall into the ocean… and it could begin to do this much more quickly than anyone has imagined so far. If memory serves me, the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels some 20 feet if it fell into the ocean. No one had seriously imagined this taking place.

It’s interesting to me that even the press coverage of this IPCC language on the ice caps seems so scary, but it was released several days after the new report was presented to the AAAS in San Francisco. It will be published in Science soon.

The IPCC will not be able to include this in it’s next report for another four years. They have gone so far as to admit that “”may no longer be avoided” because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” that’s becuase the CO2 up there will continue to be there for at least 100 years. In short the dynamics cannot be mitigated by conservation, except on a scale of hundreds of years… and the new evidence always seems to point out a sensitivity to climate and geophysical drivers that was not previously appreciated. Our assumptions continue to be proven wrong, but the UN and the media can’t keep up with the implications of that.

Even Chicken Little can’t keep up with the science.

(The Antarctic ice sheet contains some 90% of the planet’s ice. It’s not gotten much warmer down there, as it has in the Arctic, so scientists have been wondering why so many huge chunks of ice from other parts of Antarctica have been falling off into the oceans. The thought had been that warming in ocean temps was to blame).

PS. In his February 15 Presidential Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Harvard Prof. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researcher John Holdren called on scientists and engineers to get personally involved in developing solutions and suggested that fundamental changes on a global scale are needed. He quoted a colleague who envisioned “crocodiles off of Greenland and palm trees in Wyoming.”

…The survivors could start croc farms. Wonderful protein source. Tastes just like chicken.

PpSs. Correction: the West Antarctic ice shelf would raise sea levels only 20 feet, not 30. Maybe we can keep that beach condo after all. In Greenland.

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2 Responses

  1. fmassen says:

    Dear Pierre, please don’t jump so blind-eyed on the global warming hysteria-train. West Antartica (the peninsula) is indeed melting, due probably to a change in ocean currents and local warming; but this is a tiny portion of the continent, who as a whole is gaining (yes: that’s a negative loss!) mass:

    ….Wingham et al. report that “overall, the data, corrected for isostatic rebound, show the ice sheet growing at 5 ± 1 mm year-1.” To calculate the ice sheet’s change in mass, however, “requires knowledge of the density at which the volume changes have occurred,” and when the researchers’ best estimates of regional differences in this parameter are used, they find that “72% of the Antarctic ice sheet is gaining 27 ± 29 Gt year-1, a sink of ocean mass sufficient to lower [authors’ italics] global sea levels by 0.08 mm year-1.” This net extraction of water from the global ocean, according to Wingham et al., occurs because “mass gains from accumulating snow, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula and within East Antarctica, exceed the ice dynamic mass loss from West Antarctica.”….
    Wingham, D.J., Shepherd, A., Muir, A. and Marshall, G.J. 2006. Mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 364: 1627-1635.

    The rise of sea-level is practically constant since 150 years; there is even some (unexplainend and surprising) cooling going on in the North Atlantic waters over the last 3 years.

    Look at for comments and papers from the not so IPCC consensus side…

    Cheers, Francis

  2. Pierre Joris says:

    Francis, I don’t think it is hysteria — of course there are scientist who say that all the informnation is not in yet — & yet, when as conservative a body as the IPCC (see there report: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policymakers Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, 18 pp., available at who cannot in any way be considered hysteria-mongers, claim that there is a major problem, I cannot but agree. As you were emailing me, I was reading the following article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, a reveiw in fact of the IPCC report. Worth looking at:



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