Photo via Scan Tours
Seems there are two surefire, telltale signs for bad news in the science world these days--the pairing of the words 'new report' and 'polar ice'. The story, it seems, never reveals itself to be anything like 'New Report on Polar Ice: There's More of It'. Nope, you know the drill by now--that stuff is melting, and melting fast. The most recent report, Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment, has found that the melting of ice at the poles will likely cause sea levels to rise 4 and a half feet globally by 2100.The primary cause of the melting is the expanding of warmer oceans. Apparently, the bulk of the melting is accelerating in the western part of Antarctica, where hotter waters are eating away at the ice. The warmer water is "getting under the edges of the West Antarctic ice sheet and accelerating the flow of ice into the ocean," says lead report editor John Turner.
According to the BBC, the study was conducted by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (with the unfortunate acronym SCAR), and was a major review of climate change on the continent. The report "was written using contributions from 100 leading scientists in various disciplines, and reviewed by a further 200."
And the results, as usual, are unsettling. From the BBC:
SCAR's executive director Dr Colin Summerhayes said it painted a picture of "the creeping global catastrophe that we face". "The temperature of the air is increasing, the temperature of the ocean is increasing, sea levels are rising - and the Sun appears to have very little influence on what we see," he said.The report finds that the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by 3 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years--the most dramatic warming in the southern hemisphere. Meanwhile, East Antarctica has seen some moderate cooling, thanks to the depleted ozone layer there that used to trap much more heat.
While ice melt at the poles will be the largest contributor to rising sea levels, other sources like mountain glaciers will contribute as well. This diagram demonstrates:
Along with melting ice, the warming is also opening Antarctica up to invasive species that will impact the continent's ecology in unforeseen ways. But for now, many are concerned mostly with the massive impacts that such drastic rises in sea levels could have on a global level if warming continues unmitigated. From dealing with climate refugees to making major infrastructure investments in seaside cities, governments around the world are going to have to prepare for a watery future.