Antarctic Ice Sheet Beginning to Crack

A recent study on the Antarctic Peninsula shows longer summers and new patterns of warm winds are having an extreme effect on the Antarctic ice sheet.

Well into what should be autumn, continued warm breezes are contributing to the concentration of meltwater in parts of the South Pole, specifically in the Larsen C ice shelf. Unfortunately, this melting behavior is remarkably detrimental. The researchers determined these unusual late autumn melts (a reminder that in the Southern Hemisphere, autumn starts in March) have a huge effect compared to marginal overall temperature increases during the summer season.

The warm, dry winds and the meltwater they produce work at the weakest points of the ice shelf until a chunk of what should be permanently frozen ice breaks off into the ocean. Then, the ice floats to warmer waters and melts, contributing to the rising of the ocean.

This has already been happening with ice sheets since the 1990s. While the new study is focused on the series of ice shelves known collectively as Larsen C, the former Larsen B already experienced a major collapse in 2002. And its last vestiges are expected to be completely gone within the next year. Greenland also is on the precipice of major and irreversible ice loss.

Seeing the way ice sheets are breaking off from the poles in fits and starts, it’s clear the rising of the ocean is one aspect of climate change we cannot anticipate as being gradual and predictable. Climate scientists have been telling us that for decades now.

Sea-level rise is a global problem, but we can predict where some of the major fallout will take place. Coastal wetlands, such as those in Louisiana and Florida, are in danger of collapsing their ecosystems if the water rises too quickly for plants and animals to adapt. The unique blending of fresh water and saltwater can be easily thrown off balance — not to mention plants that grow in submerged areas can be drowned if the water rises too high and too fast.

Also in danger are coastal cities. And thanks to the greater prevalence of extreme storms — including in regions that were previously too cold for hurricanes to form — sea-level rise will be a problem well before some areas are permanently underwater. Supercharged storms in higher seas will quickly put many communities on the chopping block unless extreme infrastructure projects, such as sea walls, are put in place in time.

These solutions are necessary but also overwhelming in their scale. It would have been cheaper to transform our energy economy rather than trying to hold back the ocean. In fact, it would still be cheaper to pour everything we can into mitigating the ongoing climate disaster. If there’s ever been a time to be a single-issue voter, this is it.

Photo credit: PhillDanze/Getty Images

53 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson11 days ago

Thank you.

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Mitchell D
Mitchell D13 days ago

If not for fossil fuel corporate money, this may have been addressed many years ago, already! Then we get a delusional POTUS, the I'm-perfect storm!

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Peggy B
Peggy B14 days ago

I would rather err on the side of caution and be wrong than to ignore it and find out we waited too long to make a difference.

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Tabot T
Tabot T19 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan B22 days ago

Glennis W.,
Of course it is real. It is just not leading to Armageddon, and we do not need to sacrifice everything to combat it.

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney23 days ago

Climate chagns is ral Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney23 days ago

Frightening Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney23 days ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney23 days ago

Very scary Thank you for caring and sharing

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Carole R
Carole R23 days ago

This is so scary. Why won't those in power realize the depth of this problem?

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