Tag Archives: Antarctic

Polar link unites far extremes of north and south

They are different worlds, one an ocean, the other a continent. But a polar link keeps them in touch with each other.

LONDON, 30 November, 2020 − The Arctic and Antarctica are literally a world apart, but for an unlikely polar link. Change in the mass of ice in the north can and does precipitate change in the furthest reaches of the southern hemisphere.

According to 40,000 years of geological evidence, when the Arctic Ocean ice retreats, global sea levels rise to start washing away the sea ice around the shelf of the vast frozen continent at the other extreme of the planet.

This pattern of action at a distance is confirmed by computer simulations: the planet’s two hemispheres are in a kind of conversation, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

“Our results highlight how interconnected the Earth system is, with changes in one part of the planet driving changes in another,” said Natalya Gomez, of McGill University in Canada, who led the study.

“In the modern era, we haven’t seen the kind of large ice sheet retreat that we might see in our future warming world. Looking to records and models of change in Earth’s history can inform us about this.”

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes”

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet: what happens in the far north has reverberations throughout the hemisphere. And Antarctica, too, is changing swiftly.

Although both extremes of cold are vulnerable to global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use and global-scale loss of forests, climate scientists have tended to consider them as separate cases.

But a closer look at geological records − ice cores and samples from the ocean bottom that offer evidence of iceberg drift across the millennia − revealed a connection. The polar link is real.

At the height of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, the mass of ice in the north lowered global sea levels and the Antarctic ice shelf advanced. As the world began to warm again, ice in the north began to flow into the sea. Sea levels rose in the southern hemisphere and this began to force a retreat of the Antarctic ice.

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances due to the water that flows between them. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes,” Dr Gomez said.

Dynamic ice

“Polar ice sheets are not just large static mounds of ice. They evolve on various different time scales and are in constant flux, with ice growing and retreating, depending on the climate and the surrounding water levels.

“They gain ice as snow piles up on top of them, then spread outwards under their own weight, and stream out into the surrounding ocean where their edges break off into icebergs.”

The evidence showed that sea level change in Antarctica and ice mass loss in the Arctic were linked, over a sequence of at least 40,000 years.

“These ice sheets are really dynamic, exciting and intriguing parts of the Earth’s climate system. It’s staggering to think of ice that is several kilometres thick, that covers an entire continent, and that is evolving on all of these different timescales with global consequences,” Dr Gomez said.

“It’s just motivation for trying to better understand these really massive systems that are so far away from us.” − Climate News Network

They are different worlds, one an ocean, the other a continent. But a polar link keeps them in touch with each other.

LONDON, 30 November, 2020 − The Arctic and Antarctica are literally a world apart, but for an unlikely polar link. Change in the mass of ice in the north can and does precipitate change in the furthest reaches of the southern hemisphere.

According to 40,000 years of geological evidence, when the Arctic Ocean ice retreats, global sea levels rise to start washing away the sea ice around the shelf of the vast frozen continent at the other extreme of the planet.

This pattern of action at a distance is confirmed by computer simulations: the planet’s two hemispheres are in a kind of conversation, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

“Our results highlight how interconnected the Earth system is, with changes in one part of the planet driving changes in another,” said Natalya Gomez, of McGill University in Canada, who led the study.

“In the modern era, we haven’t seen the kind of large ice sheet retreat that we might see in our future warming world. Looking to records and models of change in Earth’s history can inform us about this.”

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes”

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet: what happens in the far north has reverberations throughout the hemisphere. And Antarctica, too, is changing swiftly.

Although both extremes of cold are vulnerable to global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use and global-scale loss of forests, climate scientists have tended to consider them as separate cases.

But a closer look at geological records − ice cores and samples from the ocean bottom that offer evidence of iceberg drift across the millennia − revealed a connection. The polar link is real.

At the height of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, the mass of ice in the north lowered global sea levels and the Antarctic ice shelf advanced. As the world began to warm again, ice in the north began to flow into the sea. Sea levels rose in the southern hemisphere and this began to force a retreat of the Antarctic ice.

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances due to the water that flows between them. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes,” Dr Gomez said.

Dynamic ice

“Polar ice sheets are not just large static mounds of ice. They evolve on various different time scales and are in constant flux, with ice growing and retreating, depending on the climate and the surrounding water levels.

“They gain ice as snow piles up on top of them, then spread outwards under their own weight, and stream out into the surrounding ocean where their edges break off into icebergs.”

The evidence showed that sea level change in Antarctica and ice mass loss in the Arctic were linked, over a sequence of at least 40,000 years.

“These ice sheets are really dynamic, exciting and intriguing parts of the Earth’s climate system. It’s staggering to think of ice that is several kilometres thick, that covers an entire continent, and that is evolving on all of these different timescales with global consequences,” Dr Gomez said.

“It’s just motivation for trying to better understand these really massive systems that are so far away from us.” − Climate News Network

Antarctic depths warm far beyond oceanic average

Heat from factories and car exhausts must go somewhere. A surprising amount is now sunk in the remote Antarctic depths.

LONDON, 28 October, 2020 − Thanks to global heating, a vital part of the Southern Ocean is warming at a rate five times faster than the average for the Blue Planet as a whole, in the far Antarctic depths: 2000 metres or more below the surface of the Weddell Sea.

It is happening because at that depth the Weddell Sea has absorbed five times as much atmospheric heat − fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions from human fossil fuel combustion − as the average for the rest of the ocean. But what happens out of sight and far below the surface may not stay invisible. The Weddell Sea is where vast volumes of water circulate.

The fear is that such dramatic warming at depth could end up weakening a powerful current that encircles Antarctica, according to a new study in the Journal of Climate.

The evidence comes from 30 years of temperature and salinity samples, taken at the same spot and through the entire water column, with exquisite accuracy, by scientists aboard the German research icebreaker Polarstern.

“Our time series confirms the pivotal role of the Southern Ocean and especially the Weddell Sea in terms of storing heat in the depths of the world’s oceans”

“Our data shows a clear division in the water column of the Weddell Sea. While the water in the upper 700 metres has hardly warmed at all, in the deeper regions we’re seeing a consistent temperature rise of 0.0021 to 0.0024 degrees Celsius per year,” said Volker Strass, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven in Germany.

“Since the ocean has roughly 1,000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere, these numbers represent an enormous scale of heat absorption. By using the temperature rise to calculate the warming rate in watts per square metre, you can see that over the past 30 years, at depths of over 2,000 metres, the Weddell Sea has absorbed five times as much heat as the rest of the ocean on average.”

The global ocean is the great absorber of atmospheric shock. The deep blue sea has so far absorbed more than nine-tenths of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

The Weddell Sea begins at the extreme south of the Atlantic Ocean: it is roughly 10 times the size of Europe’s North Sea. Here tremendous volumes of water cool down. As sea ice forms on the surface the remaining waters become more salty, and because they have become colder, and denser, sink to the bottom, to spread at depth to drive deep sea flow into the oceans.

Ocean circulation risk

This act of overturning − the sinking of surface waters for thousands of metres into the Antarctic depths − is part of the machinery of ocean circulation that drives and modifies the world’s weather systems, and the climate.

The problem is that if the bottom waters are warming − and are therefore less dense − then this could weaken or stall the mechanism for ocean circulation. In the past 30 years the prevailing winds have shifted and intensified, and the flow speed of ocean water has increased to deliver more heat to the Weddell Sea with each decade.

Warming ocean waters have already been implicated in the loss of sea ice  cover that normally slows the flow of Antarctica’s continental glaciers. And warming in the Arctic has already triggered worries about the future of the “Atlantic Conveyer,” that enormous circulation of water that distributes heat from the Equator to the Poles and keeps northern Europe much warmer than its latitudes would dictate.

“Our time series confirms the pivotal role of the Southern Ocean and especially the Weddell Sea in terms of storing heat in the depths of the world’s oceans,” said Dr Strass. − Climate News Network

Heat from factories and car exhausts must go somewhere. A surprising amount is now sunk in the remote Antarctic depths.

LONDON, 28 October, 2020 − Thanks to global heating, a vital part of the Southern Ocean is warming at a rate five times faster than the average for the Blue Planet as a whole, in the far Antarctic depths: 2000 metres or more below the surface of the Weddell Sea.

It is happening because at that depth the Weddell Sea has absorbed five times as much atmospheric heat − fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions from human fossil fuel combustion − as the average for the rest of the ocean. But what happens out of sight and far below the surface may not stay invisible. The Weddell Sea is where vast volumes of water circulate.

The fear is that such dramatic warming at depth could end up weakening a powerful current that encircles Antarctica, according to a new study in the Journal of Climate.

The evidence comes from 30 years of temperature and salinity samples, taken at the same spot and through the entire water column, with exquisite accuracy, by scientists aboard the German research icebreaker Polarstern.

“Our time series confirms the pivotal role of the Southern Ocean and especially the Weddell Sea in terms of storing heat in the depths of the world’s oceans”

“Our data shows a clear division in the water column of the Weddell Sea. While the water in the upper 700 metres has hardly warmed at all, in the deeper regions we’re seeing a consistent temperature rise of 0.0021 to 0.0024 degrees Celsius per year,” said Volker Strass, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven in Germany.

“Since the ocean has roughly 1,000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere, these numbers represent an enormous scale of heat absorption. By using the temperature rise to calculate the warming rate in watts per square metre, you can see that over the past 30 years, at depths of over 2,000 metres, the Weddell Sea has absorbed five times as much heat as the rest of the ocean on average.”

The global ocean is the great absorber of atmospheric shock. The deep blue sea has so far absorbed more than nine-tenths of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

The Weddell Sea begins at the extreme south of the Atlantic Ocean: it is roughly 10 times the size of Europe’s North Sea. Here tremendous volumes of water cool down. As sea ice forms on the surface the remaining waters become more salty, and because they have become colder, and denser, sink to the bottom, to spread at depth to drive deep sea flow into the oceans.

Ocean circulation risk

This act of overturning − the sinking of surface waters for thousands of metres into the Antarctic depths − is part of the machinery of ocean circulation that drives and modifies the world’s weather systems, and the climate.

The problem is that if the bottom waters are warming − and are therefore less dense − then this could weaken or stall the mechanism for ocean circulation. In the past 30 years the prevailing winds have shifted and intensified, and the flow speed of ocean water has increased to deliver more heat to the Weddell Sea with each decade.

Warming ocean waters have already been implicated in the loss of sea ice  cover that normally slows the flow of Antarctica’s continental glaciers. And warming in the Arctic has already triggered worries about the future of the “Atlantic Conveyer,” that enormous circulation of water that distributes heat from the Equator to the Poles and keeps northern Europe much warmer than its latitudes would dictate.

“Our time series confirms the pivotal role of the Southern Ocean and especially the Weddell Sea in terms of storing heat in the depths of the world’s oceans,” said Dr Strass. − Climate News Network

Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network

South Pole warms faster than anywhere − but why?

The coldest place on Earth, the South Pole, is mysteriously heating a lot faster than the rest of the planet.

LONDON, 16 July, 2020 − The South Pole is warming, and warming fast. In the last 30 years, the place furthest from the summer sun, the place where one winter’s night lasts for 179 days, has been warming at 0.6°C per decade. This is three times the speed of average warming for the whole planet.

The finding is unexpected. The geographic South Pole is not only the most extreme location in the southern hemisphere, it is also at Alpine altitude. The Amundsen-Scott research station at the pole is at 2,835 metres, perched on a sheet of glacier ice 2,700 metres above the bedrock, and moving towards the sea at 10 metres a year.

Winter temperatures have fallen to minus 82.8°C. The warmest summer day ever recorded was minus 13.6°C.

And yet this unforgiving spot, with an annual average temperature of minus 49°C, still registers a measure of global warming. Whether this warming is fuelled by a natural climate cycle or by the profligate human use of fossil fuels, or by both, is not certain.

Systematic record-keeping began only in 1957 and for most of the late 20th century, while the rest of the planet started to warm, the South Pole continued to cool. West Antarctica is getting warmer, and melting at an accelerating rate, thanks in part to human-fuelled climate change.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet, and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent”

But scientists from New Zealand and the US report in the journal Nature that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole had warmed by 1.8°C, partly because warm waters in the western Pacific had affected the South Atlantic winds and stepped up the delivery of warm air to the heart of the continent.

And this most extreme of environments goes on presenting puzzles. In April researchers announced the discovery of the remains of a 90-million-year-old swampy temperate forest within 900kms of the South Pole: it was once so warm that even in a winter night that lasted for months, foliage could flourish.

The latest research from the South Pole data suggests that researchers would like to know a lot more before they can say if the warming trend will continue, and why.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet,” said Kyle Clem, of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, who led the research, “and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent, so there are constant surprises and new things to learn about Antarctica every year.” − Climate News Network

The coldest place on Earth, the South Pole, is mysteriously heating a lot faster than the rest of the planet.

LONDON, 16 July, 2020 − The South Pole is warming, and warming fast. In the last 30 years, the place furthest from the summer sun, the place where one winter’s night lasts for 179 days, has been warming at 0.6°C per decade. This is three times the speed of average warming for the whole planet.

The finding is unexpected. The geographic South Pole is not only the most extreme location in the southern hemisphere, it is also at Alpine altitude. The Amundsen-Scott research station at the pole is at 2,835 metres, perched on a sheet of glacier ice 2,700 metres above the bedrock, and moving towards the sea at 10 metres a year.

Winter temperatures have fallen to minus 82.8°C. The warmest summer day ever recorded was minus 13.6°C.

And yet this unforgiving spot, with an annual average temperature of minus 49°C, still registers a measure of global warming. Whether this warming is fuelled by a natural climate cycle or by the profligate human use of fossil fuels, or by both, is not certain.

Systematic record-keeping began only in 1957 and for most of the late 20th century, while the rest of the planet started to warm, the South Pole continued to cool. West Antarctica is getting warmer, and melting at an accelerating rate, thanks in part to human-fuelled climate change.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet, and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent”

But scientists from New Zealand and the US report in the journal Nature that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole had warmed by 1.8°C, partly because warm waters in the western Pacific had affected the South Atlantic winds and stepped up the delivery of warm air to the heart of the continent.

And this most extreme of environments goes on presenting puzzles. In April researchers announced the discovery of the remains of a 90-million-year-old swampy temperate forest within 900kms of the South Pole: it was once so warm that even in a winter night that lasted for months, foliage could flourish.

The latest research from the South Pole data suggests that researchers would like to know a lot more before they can say if the warming trend will continue, and why.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet,” said Kyle Clem, of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, who led the research, “and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent, so there are constant surprises and new things to learn about Antarctica every year.” − Climate News Network

Antarctic melting could bring a much hotter future

Antarctic melting can force sea ice retreat of 50 metres daily. CO2 levels are at their highest for 23 million years. Learn from the past.

LONDON, 23 June, 2020 – Antarctic melting starts with dramatic speed. Ice shelves during the sudden warm spell at the close of the last Ice Age retreated at up to 50 metres a day.

This finding is not based on climate simulations generated by computer algorithms. It is based on direct evidence left 12,000 years ago on the Antarctic sea floor by retreating ice.

The finding is an indirect indicator of how warm things could get – and how high sea levels could rise – as humans burn ever more fossil fuels and raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to ever higher ratios.

And as if to highlight the approaching climate catastrophe, a second and separate study finds that the measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now is not just higher than at any time in human history or at any interval in the Ice Ages. It is the highest for at least 23 million years.

“Should climate change continue to weaken the ice shelves in the coming decades, we could see similar rates of retreat, with profound implications for global sea level rise”

British scientists report in the journal Science that they used an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), cruising at depth in the Weddell Sea, to read the pattern of the past preserved in ridges of the Antarctic seabed.

The original push for the expedition had been to search for the ship Endurance, commanded by the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton on his doomed voyage in 1914. The loss of the ship, crushed in the polar ice, and the rescue of his crew became one of the epic stories of maritime history.

The researchers did not find Endurance. But they did find an enduring record of past ice retreat.

Sea ice skirts about 75% of the continent’s coastline: when it melts it makes no difference to sea levels, but while it remains frozen it does serve the purpose of buttressing glacial flow from the high Antarctic interior. Brushed by increasingly warm air each summer, and swept by slowly warming ocean currents all year round, the ice shelves are thinning and retreating.

Tell-tale line

Underneath the ice, the research team’s robot submarine spotted wave-like ridges, each about a metre high and 20 to 25 metres apart: ridges formed at what had once been the grounding line – the point at which a grounded ice sheet starts to float, and evidence of ice rising and falling with the tides.

There are twelve hours between high tide and low, so by measuring the distance between the ridges, scientists could measure the pace of retreat at the end of the last Ice Age. It is estimated at 40 to 50 metres a day.

Right now, the fastest retreat measured from grounding lines in Antarctica is only about 1.6 kms a year. The implication is that it could get a lot faster.

“Should climate change continue to weaken the ice shelves in the coming decades, we could see similar rates of retreat, with profound implications for global sea level rise,” said Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, who led the research.

Faster change ahead

Past warm periods are associated only with relatively modest rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Right now, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that the present increasingly rapid rise is the highest in the last 800,000 years.

Now a team from the US and Norway report in the journal Geology that they have measured past atmospheric carbon levels in fossil plants to establish that present day carbon levels are higher currently than at any time in the last 23 million years.

This means that – unless there are drastic steps to contain global warming – the retreat will become increasingly more rapid, and the rate of glacial flow towards the sea ever faster.

Were all the ice in Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by about 60 metres, completely submerging many of the world’s great cities. – Climate News Network

Antarctic melting can force sea ice retreat of 50 metres daily. CO2 levels are at their highest for 23 million years. Learn from the past.

LONDON, 23 June, 2020 – Antarctic melting starts with dramatic speed. Ice shelves during the sudden warm spell at the close of the last Ice Age retreated at up to 50 metres a day.

This finding is not based on climate simulations generated by computer algorithms. It is based on direct evidence left 12,000 years ago on the Antarctic sea floor by retreating ice.

The finding is an indirect indicator of how warm things could get – and how high sea levels could rise – as humans burn ever more fossil fuels and raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to ever higher ratios.

And as if to highlight the approaching climate catastrophe, a second and separate study finds that the measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now is not just higher than at any time in human history or at any interval in the Ice Ages. It is the highest for at least 23 million years.

“Should climate change continue to weaken the ice shelves in the coming decades, we could see similar rates of retreat, with profound implications for global sea level rise”

British scientists report in the journal Science that they used an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), cruising at depth in the Weddell Sea, to read the pattern of the past preserved in ridges of the Antarctic seabed.

The original push for the expedition had been to search for the ship Endurance, commanded by the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton on his doomed voyage in 1914. The loss of the ship, crushed in the polar ice, and the rescue of his crew became one of the epic stories of maritime history.

The researchers did not find Endurance. But they did find an enduring record of past ice retreat.

Sea ice skirts about 75% of the continent’s coastline: when it melts it makes no difference to sea levels, but while it remains frozen it does serve the purpose of buttressing glacial flow from the high Antarctic interior. Brushed by increasingly warm air each summer, and swept by slowly warming ocean currents all year round, the ice shelves are thinning and retreating.

Tell-tale line

Underneath the ice, the research team’s robot submarine spotted wave-like ridges, each about a metre high and 20 to 25 metres apart: ridges formed at what had once been the grounding line – the point at which a grounded ice sheet starts to float, and evidence of ice rising and falling with the tides.

There are twelve hours between high tide and low, so by measuring the distance between the ridges, scientists could measure the pace of retreat at the end of the last Ice Age. It is estimated at 40 to 50 metres a day.

Right now, the fastest retreat measured from grounding lines in Antarctica is only about 1.6 kms a year. The implication is that it could get a lot faster.

“Should climate change continue to weaken the ice shelves in the coming decades, we could see similar rates of retreat, with profound implications for global sea level rise,” said Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, who led the research.

Faster change ahead

Past warm periods are associated only with relatively modest rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Right now, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that the present increasingly rapid rise is the highest in the last 800,000 years.

Now a team from the US and Norway report in the journal Geology that they have measured past atmospheric carbon levels in fossil plants to establish that present day carbon levels are higher currently than at any time in the last 23 million years.

This means that – unless there are drastic steps to contain global warming – the retreat will become increasingly more rapid, and the rate of glacial flow towards the sea ever faster.

Were all the ice in Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by about 60 metres, completely submerging many of the world’s great cities. – Climate News Network

Plastic waste now litters Antarctic shore

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

Ancient ice-free polar forest could soon return

An ice-free polar forest once flourished, helped by enough heat and ample greenhouse gas. It could come back.

LONDON, 10 April, 2020 – Many millions of years ago, the southern continent wasn’t frozen at all, but basked in heat balmy enough for an ice-free polar forest to thrive. And ancient pre-history could repeat itself.

Climate scientists can tell you what the world could be like were today’s greenhouse gas concentrations to triple – which they could do if humans go on clearing tropical forests and burning fossil fuels.

They know because, 90 million years ago, the last time when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere went past the 1200 ppm (parts per million) mark, sea levels were 170 metres higher than today and the world was so warm that dense forests grew in what is now Antarctica.

At latitude 82 South, a region where the polar night lasts for four months, there was no icecap. Instead, the continental rocks were colonised by conifer forest, with a mix of tree ferns and an understorey of flowering shrubs.

Even though at that latitude the midday sun would have been relatively low in the sky, and the forests would have had to survive sustained winter darkness for a dozen weeks or more, average temperatures would have been that of modern day Tasmania, and a good 2C° warmer than modern Germany.

“Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate forests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected”

German and British researchers report in the journal Nature that they took a closer look at a sequence of strangely-coloured mudstone in a core drilled 30 metres below the bottom of the sea floor, off West Antarctica.

The section of sediment had been preserved from the mid-Cretaceous, around 90 million years ago, in a world dominated by dinosaurs. By then, the first mammals may have evolved, the grasses were about to emerge, and seasonal flowering plants had begun to colonise a planet dominated for aeons by evergreens.

And in the preserved silt were pollens, spores, tangled roots and other plant material so well preserved that the researchers could not just identify the plant families, but even take a guess at parallels with modern forests. Before their eyes was evidence of something like the modern rainforests of New Zealand’s South Island, but deep inside the Antarctic Circle.

“The preservation of this 90 million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals,” said Tina van de Flierdt, of Imperial College London.

“Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate forests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected.”

British rain levels

Somewhere between 115 and 85 million years ago, the whole world was a lot hotter: in the tropics temperatures reached 35°C and the average temperature of that part of the Antarctic was 13°C. This is at least two degrees higher than the average temperature for modern Germany.

Average temperatures in summer went up to 18.5°C, and the water temperatures in the swamps and rivers tipped 20°C, only 900 kms from the then South Pole. Modern Antarctica is classed as desert, with minimal precipitation: then it would have seen 1120 mm a year. People from southwestern Scotland or parts of Wales would have felt at home.

It is an axiom of earth science that the present is key to the past: if such forests today can flourish at existing temperatures, then the same must have been true in the deep past.

So climate scientists from the start have taken a close interest in the evidence of intensely warm periods in the fossil record: a mix of plant and animal remains, the ratio of chemical isotopes preserved in rock, and even the air bubbles trapped in deep ice cores can help them reconstruct the temperatures, the composition of the atmosphere and the rainfall of, for example, the warmest periods of the Pliocene, when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere tipped the 1000 ppm mark, and average planetary temperatures rose by 9°C.

Prehistoric encore approaching?

In the past century, atmospheric CO2 levels have swollen from 285 ppm to more than 400 ppm, and the planetary thermometer has already crept up by 1°C above the level for most of human history. If human economies continue burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate, the conditions that prevailed 56 million years ago could return by 2159.

The Cretaceous evidence will help climate scientists calibrate their models of a world in which greenhouse gas emissions go on rising.

“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1000 ppm,” said Johann Klages, of the Alfred Wegener Institute centre for polar and marine research in Germany, who led the study.

“But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1120 to 1680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in Antarctica.” – Climate News Network

An ice-free polar forest once flourished, helped by enough heat and ample greenhouse gas. It could come back.

LONDON, 10 April, 2020 – Many millions of years ago, the southern continent wasn’t frozen at all, but basked in heat balmy enough for an ice-free polar forest to thrive. And ancient pre-history could repeat itself.

Climate scientists can tell you what the world could be like were today’s greenhouse gas concentrations to triple – which they could do if humans go on clearing tropical forests and burning fossil fuels.

They know because, 90 million years ago, the last time when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere went past the 1200 ppm (parts per million) mark, sea levels were 170 metres higher than today and the world was so warm that dense forests grew in what is now Antarctica.

At latitude 82 South, a region where the polar night lasts for four months, there was no icecap. Instead, the continental rocks were colonised by conifer forest, with a mix of tree ferns and an understorey of flowering shrubs.

Even though at that latitude the midday sun would have been relatively low in the sky, and the forests would have had to survive sustained winter darkness for a dozen weeks or more, average temperatures would have been that of modern day Tasmania, and a good 2C° warmer than modern Germany.

“Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate forests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected”

German and British researchers report in the journal Nature that they took a closer look at a sequence of strangely-coloured mudstone in a core drilled 30 metres below the bottom of the sea floor, off West Antarctica.

The section of sediment had been preserved from the mid-Cretaceous, around 90 million years ago, in a world dominated by dinosaurs. By then, the first mammals may have evolved, the grasses were about to emerge, and seasonal flowering plants had begun to colonise a planet dominated for aeons by evergreens.

And in the preserved silt were pollens, spores, tangled roots and other plant material so well preserved that the researchers could not just identify the plant families, but even take a guess at parallels with modern forests. Before their eyes was evidence of something like the modern rainforests of New Zealand’s South Island, but deep inside the Antarctic Circle.

“The preservation of this 90 million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals,” said Tina van de Flierdt, of Imperial College London.

“Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate forests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected.”

British rain levels

Somewhere between 115 and 85 million years ago, the whole world was a lot hotter: in the tropics temperatures reached 35°C and the average temperature of that part of the Antarctic was 13°C. This is at least two degrees higher than the average temperature for modern Germany.

Average temperatures in summer went up to 18.5°C, and the water temperatures in the swamps and rivers tipped 20°C, only 900 kms from the then South Pole. Modern Antarctica is classed as desert, with minimal precipitation: then it would have seen 1120 mm a year. People from southwestern Scotland or parts of Wales would have felt at home.

It is an axiom of earth science that the present is key to the past: if such forests today can flourish at existing temperatures, then the same must have been true in the deep past.

So climate scientists from the start have taken a close interest in the evidence of intensely warm periods in the fossil record: a mix of plant and animal remains, the ratio of chemical isotopes preserved in rock, and even the air bubbles trapped in deep ice cores can help them reconstruct the temperatures, the composition of the atmosphere and the rainfall of, for example, the warmest periods of the Pliocene, when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere tipped the 1000 ppm mark, and average planetary temperatures rose by 9°C.

Prehistoric encore approaching?

In the past century, atmospheric CO2 levels have swollen from 285 ppm to more than 400 ppm, and the planetary thermometer has already crept up by 1°C above the level for most of human history. If human economies continue burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate, the conditions that prevailed 56 million years ago could return by 2159.

The Cretaceous evidence will help climate scientists calibrate their models of a world in which greenhouse gas emissions go on rising.

“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1000 ppm,” said Johann Klages, of the Alfred Wegener Institute centre for polar and marine research in Germany, who led the study.

“But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1120 to 1680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in Antarctica.” – Climate News Network

Poles attract marine life avoiding rising heat

In a warming ocean, some species will swim, others sink. But all agree: the poles attract marine life without exception.

LONDON, 3 April, 2020 − It’s the same the whole world over: everywhere in the oceans of this warming planet, the poles attract marine life.

Molluscs are on the move, haddock are feeling the heat, and penguins are shifting further south. Nautilus are heading north, and plankton are edging towards both poles.

New analysis of marine species has confirmed what commercial fishermen already know to their cost: that as the oceans warm, the sea’s citizens shift their grounds.

Researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they surveyed the evidence assembled in 540 records of 304 widely distributed marine animals over the last century, to find that all of them are shifting their range: away from the equatorial waters, and in both hemispheres nearer to the poles.

In the past century, overall, the world’s oceans have warmed by around 1°C. By 2050, the rise may reach 1.5°C, and all the evidence so far suggests fish and shellfish, along with the microbial creatures at the bottom of the food chain and the marine mammals and seabirds that prey on them all, will have shifted their latitudinal range.

“Both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem”

The greatest abundance of any species, the researchers found, was likely to be at the poleward edge of the preferred range, and the sparsest nearest to the tropical waters.

“The main surprise is how pervasive the effects were. We found the same trend across all groups of marine life we looked at, from plankton to marine invertebrates, and from fish to seabirds,” said Martin Genner, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Bristol in the UK.

“This matters because it means that climate change is not only leading abundance changes, but intrinsically affecting the performance of species locally. We see species such as the Emperor penguin becoming less abundant as the water becomes too warm at their equatorward edge, and we see some fish such as the European sea bass thriving at their poleward edge, where historically they were uncommon.”

Fish and many marine animals have a preferred range of temperatures, and even seemingly imperceptible shifts can have unpredictable effects. Both individual research and commercial catch data have confirmed a series of shifts in response to global heating.

Winners and losers

Tropical fish are shifting away from the hottest waters, North Sea catches are more likely to be found in north Atlantic waters, and some Mediterranean species have now shifted to the waters of Western Europe.

The latest research suggests that whole ecosystems may be on the move, and with them Atlantic herring and Adelie penguins, loggerhead turtles and phytoplankton.

“Some marine species appear to benefit from climate change, particularly some populations at the poleward limits that are now able to thrive,” said Louise Rutterford, another of the research team at Bristol.

“Meanwhile, some marine life suffers as it is not able to adapt fast enough to survive warming, and this is most noticeable in populations nearer the equator.

“This is concerning, as both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

In a warming ocean, some species will swim, others sink. But all agree: the poles attract marine life without exception.

LONDON, 3 April, 2020 − It’s the same the whole world over: everywhere in the oceans of this warming planet, the poles attract marine life.

Molluscs are on the move, haddock are feeling the heat, and penguins are shifting further south. Nautilus are heading north, and plankton are edging towards both poles.

New analysis of marine species has confirmed what commercial fishermen already know to their cost: that as the oceans warm, the sea’s citizens shift their grounds.

Researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they surveyed the evidence assembled in 540 records of 304 widely distributed marine animals over the last century, to find that all of them are shifting their range: away from the equatorial waters, and in both hemispheres nearer to the poles.

In the past century, overall, the world’s oceans have warmed by around 1°C. By 2050, the rise may reach 1.5°C, and all the evidence so far suggests fish and shellfish, along with the microbial creatures at the bottom of the food chain and the marine mammals and seabirds that prey on them all, will have shifted their latitudinal range.

“Both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem”

The greatest abundance of any species, the researchers found, was likely to be at the poleward edge of the preferred range, and the sparsest nearest to the tropical waters.

“The main surprise is how pervasive the effects were. We found the same trend across all groups of marine life we looked at, from plankton to marine invertebrates, and from fish to seabirds,” said Martin Genner, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Bristol in the UK.

“This matters because it means that climate change is not only leading abundance changes, but intrinsically affecting the performance of species locally. We see species such as the Emperor penguin becoming less abundant as the water becomes too warm at their equatorward edge, and we see some fish such as the European sea bass thriving at their poleward edge, where historically they were uncommon.”

Fish and many marine animals have a preferred range of temperatures, and even seemingly imperceptible shifts can have unpredictable effects. Both individual research and commercial catch data have confirmed a series of shifts in response to global heating.

Winners and losers

Tropical fish are shifting away from the hottest waters, North Sea catches are more likely to be found in north Atlantic waters, and some Mediterranean species have now shifted to the waters of Western Europe.

The latest research suggests that whole ecosystems may be on the move, and with them Atlantic herring and Adelie penguins, loggerhead turtles and phytoplankton.

“Some marine species appear to benefit from climate change, particularly some populations at the poleward limits that are now able to thrive,” said Louise Rutterford, another of the research team at Bristol.

“Meanwhile, some marine life suffers as it is not able to adapt fast enough to survive warming, and this is most noticeable in populations nearer the equator.

“This is concerning, as both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Polar ice melt raises sea level dangers

polar ice

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

Record Antarctic temperatures fuel sea level worry


Sea levels may threaten coastal cities sooner than expected, scientists say, as ice loss speeds up and Antarctic temperatures rise.

LONDON, 20 February, 2020 − Across the world, people now alive in coastal areas may face dangerously rising seas within their lifetimes, as record Antarctic temperatures and rapid melting of the continent’s ice drive global sea levels upwards.

Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula reached more than 20°C for the first time in history earlier this month, the Guardian reported: “The 20.75C logged by Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island on 9 February was almost a full degree higher than the previous record of 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.”

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by almost 3°C since the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago − faster than almost anywhere else on Earth. But scientists are increasingly concerned not only about the Peninsula, but with the possibility that the entire southern continent may be heating up much faster than current estimates suggest.

Among evidence of increasing scientific effort to determine what is happening is a joint UK-US collaboration, due to report in 2023 on the chances of the collapse of the huge Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica, where from 1992 to 2017 the annual rate of ice loss rose threefold.

Big speed-up

Now a study by scientists co-ordinated by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says sea level rise caused by Antarctica’s ice loss could become a major risk for coastal protection in the near future.

After what they call “an exceptionally comprehensive comparison of state-of-the-art computer models from around the world”, they conclude that Antarctica alone could cause global sea level to rise by 2100 by up to three times more than it did in the last century.

“The ‘Antarctica Factor’ turns out to be the greatest risk, and also the greatest uncertainty, for sea levels around the globe,” says the lead author, Anders Levermann of PIK and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in New York.

“While we saw about 19 centimetres of sea level rise in the past 100 years, Antarctic ice loss could lead to up to 58 centimetres within this century”, he said.

“We know for certain that not stopping the burning of coal, oil and gas will drive up the risks for coastal metropolises from New York to Mumbai, Hamburg and Shanghai”

“Coastal planning cannot merely rely on the best guess. It requires a risk analysis. Our study provides exactly that. The sea level contribution of Antarctica is very likely not going to be more than 58 centimetres.”

Thermal expansion of the oceans by global warming and the melting of glaciers, which so far have been the most important factors in sea level rise, will add to the contribution from Antarctic ice loss, making the overall sea level rise risk even bigger. But the ‘Antarctica Factor’ is about to become the most important element, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

The range of sea-level rise estimates the scientists have come up with is fairly large. Assuming that humanity keeps on emitting greenhouse gases as before, they say, the range they call “very likely” to describe the future is between 6 and 58 cms for this century.

If greenhouse gas emissions were reduced rapidly, it would be between 4 and 37 cms. Importantly, the difference between a business-as-usual scenario and one of emissions reductions becomes substantially greater as time passes.

More robust insights

Sixteen ice sheet modelling groups consisting of 36 researchers from 27 institutes contributed to the new study. A similar study six years ago had to rely on the output of only five ice sheet models.

“The more computer simulation models we use, all of them with slightly different dynamic representations of the Antarctic ice sheet, the wider the range of results that we yield − but also the more robust the insights that we gain”, said co-author Sophie Nowicki of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“There are still large uncertainties, but we are constantly improving our understanding of the largest ice sheet on Earth. Comparing model outputs is a forceful tool to provide society with the necessary information for rational decisions.”

Over the long term, the Antarctic ice sheet has the potential ultimately to raise sea levels by many tens of metres. “What we know for certain”, said Professor Levermann, “is that not stopping the burning of coal, oil and gas will drive up the risks for coastal metropolises from New York to Mumbai, Hamburg and Shanghai.” − Climate News Network


Sea levels may threaten coastal cities sooner than expected, scientists say, as ice loss speeds up and Antarctic temperatures rise.

LONDON, 20 February, 2020 − Across the world, people now alive in coastal areas may face dangerously rising seas within their lifetimes, as record Antarctic temperatures and rapid melting of the continent’s ice drive global sea levels upwards.

Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula reached more than 20°C for the first time in history earlier this month, the Guardian reported: “The 20.75C logged by Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island on 9 February was almost a full degree higher than the previous record of 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.”

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by almost 3°C since the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago − faster than almost anywhere else on Earth. But scientists are increasingly concerned not only about the Peninsula, but with the possibility that the entire southern continent may be heating up much faster than current estimates suggest.

Among evidence of increasing scientific effort to determine what is happening is a joint UK-US collaboration, due to report in 2023 on the chances of the collapse of the huge Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica, where from 1992 to 2017 the annual rate of ice loss rose threefold.

Big speed-up

Now a study by scientists co-ordinated by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says sea level rise caused by Antarctica’s ice loss could become a major risk for coastal protection in the near future.

After what they call “an exceptionally comprehensive comparison of state-of-the-art computer models from around the world”, they conclude that Antarctica alone could cause global sea level to rise by 2100 by up to three times more than it did in the last century.

“The ‘Antarctica Factor’ turns out to be the greatest risk, and also the greatest uncertainty, for sea levels around the globe,” says the lead author, Anders Levermann of PIK and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in New York.

“While we saw about 19 centimetres of sea level rise in the past 100 years, Antarctic ice loss could lead to up to 58 centimetres within this century”, he said.

“We know for certain that not stopping the burning of coal, oil and gas will drive up the risks for coastal metropolises from New York to Mumbai, Hamburg and Shanghai”

“Coastal planning cannot merely rely on the best guess. It requires a risk analysis. Our study provides exactly that. The sea level contribution of Antarctica is very likely not going to be more than 58 centimetres.”

Thermal expansion of the oceans by global warming and the melting of glaciers, which so far have been the most important factors in sea level rise, will add to the contribution from Antarctic ice loss, making the overall sea level rise risk even bigger. But the ‘Antarctica Factor’ is about to become the most important element, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

The range of sea-level rise estimates the scientists have come up with is fairly large. Assuming that humanity keeps on emitting greenhouse gases as before, they say, the range they call “very likely” to describe the future is between 6 and 58 cms for this century.

If greenhouse gas emissions were reduced rapidly, it would be between 4 and 37 cms. Importantly, the difference between a business-as-usual scenario and one of emissions reductions becomes substantially greater as time passes.

More robust insights

Sixteen ice sheet modelling groups consisting of 36 researchers from 27 institutes contributed to the new study. A similar study six years ago had to rely on the output of only five ice sheet models.

“The more computer simulation models we use, all of them with slightly different dynamic representations of the Antarctic ice sheet, the wider the range of results that we yield − but also the more robust the insights that we gain”, said co-author Sophie Nowicki of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“There are still large uncertainties, but we are constantly improving our understanding of the largest ice sheet on Earth. Comparing model outputs is a forceful tool to provide society with the necessary information for rational decisions.”

Over the long term, the Antarctic ice sheet has the potential ultimately to raise sea levels by many tens of metres. “What we know for certain”, said Professor Levermann, “is that not stopping the burning of coal, oil and gas will drive up the risks for coastal metropolises from New York to Mumbai, Hamburg and Shanghai.” − Climate News Network