West Antarctic Glacier Disintegrating Rapidly: First Hand Account

pine island glacier field camp photo

photo: Wikipedia

The effects of climate change on Antarctica seem to be coming more clearly into focus recently. At least based on things posted here on TreeHugger. For a very interesting first hand perspective on what's happening down there, Yale Environment 360 is running an interview with NASA's Robert Bindschadler, who is part of a team monitoring the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. It's a detailed interview, but here are the answers to the questions most people will probably want to know: How fast is the glacier melting and what does this mean for global sea level rise? Keep reading to find out:Moving Over 1 Foot Every Hour
Located some 1,400 miles from the nearest US base at McMurdo, Pine Island Glacier and its neighbor, the Thwaites Glacier are thinning rapidly,

There are two places in Antarctica that are really changing rapidly. One is the Antarctic Peninsula, where ice shelves are disintegrating, and the glaciers that feed them are accelerating into that open [ocean] embayment. And the other place is along the north coast of West Antarctica, and primarily these glaciers, Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier. And we see the largest rates of thinning right at the coast, and then it decays in magnitude as you go inland. And that's a pretty obvious signature that change is being triggered right at the coast, and it's just propagating inland.

This ice shelf, which five years ago was moving about 2.5 kilometers a year, is now going about 3.5 kilometers a year, and that converts to a foot an hour. It's just racing along, an astonishing rate of change. And the reason we're concerned is that this leads to more ice being discharged from the continent, and that ice, as it goes into the ocean, raises sea level around the world. And because so many people live at the coast, that draws our attention to Antarctica, and how fast the ice sheet is shrinking. We know that in the big picture, Earth is getting warmer and there's going to be less ice. But we don't know the details -- how fast, how much sea level is going to go up -- and that detail is really important because humans around the planet are so sensitive to even a tiny change in sea level.

Unspoken Consensus: IPCC Sea Level Rise Predictions Too Low
So what does all this Antarctic melting mean for global sea level rise?
e360: I know that the IPCC was saying maybe 1.5 feet or a half-meter of sea level rise in the 21st century. Is it your opinion that we could be looking at significantly larger sea level rise?

Bindschadler: Yeah, I think there's sort of an unspoken consensus in my community that if you want to look at the very largest number in the IPCC report, they said 58 centimeters, so almost two feet by the end of the century. That's way low, and it's going to be well over a meter. We may see a meter by the middle of the century.

And if this behavior that we're seeing in Pine Island, and even Greenland continues -- and we don't see any reason why it wouldn't continue -- well, over a meter by the end of the century, I think is almost certain.

e360: And some people are saying that two meters is certainly not out of the realm of possibility in the 21st century.

Bindschadler: Absolutely. That's correct, yeah.

For more details from Antarctica read: Keeping a Watchful Eye On Unstable Ice
Global Climate Change, Antarctica
ECO-MYTH BUSTER: Antarctica Heating Up, Not Cooling as Widely Believed (Video)
It's Official: Human Activity is Warming Both the Arctic and Antarctic
Glacier Melt Warming Signs from the Antarctic (Video)
Kiss Penguins Goodbye if the Planet Warms 2 Degrees Celsius: WWF

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