Antarctica’s Threatening Winter

Thwaites Glacier

In the dead of winter, the Antarctic Peninsula, an 800-mile extension of the Antarctic continent, temperatures hit 32°F. (Source: It’s Even Hot in Antarctica, Where it’s Winter, Vox, July 13, 2023)

Global warming has been on a hot streak, accelerating its record-setting impact on the planet over the past couple of years. And even though it’s winter down below, Antarctica has joined the party. The icy continent, as large as the U.S. and Mexico combined, is the coldest continent on Earth with a mean annual interior temperature of -71F.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), despite mid-winter conditions, Antarctica’s sea ice is at record lows, in fact 17% below average for this time of year. Alas, only recently, within the past few years, scientists believed East Antarctica, the mother ship of the continent, solid, unwavering, the coldest place on Earth nearly impregnable to any kind of crash for the foreseeable future. But that theory has been tossed out because it does not hold up any longer: In a First, an Ice Shelf Collapses in East Antarctica, The New York Times d/d March 25, 2022.

Over the decades, ice shelf collapse in East Antarctica was not a concern. On the other hand, West Antarctica’s geological setting is a different story with brand-name glaciers Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier tipsy, threatening, under scrutiny.

Yet, in 2022 the Conger Ice Shelf/East Antarctica bit the dust. “The Conger collapse is the first observed in East Antarctica since the era of satellite imagery began in 1979, said Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts,” Ibid.

All of which prompts a very logical query as to whether coastal cities of the world support a coordinated plan to rein-in fossil fuel usage, the root cause of planetary heat that ultimately brings flooding to coastal cities. Umm- No such plan exists. Glaciologists privately say the full extent of the tipsy dynamics of ice sheets are not included in models for sea level rise, e.g., missing from IPCC calculations. However, if included, projections of sea levels increase by up to 200% over current projections (Eric Rignot, senior research scientist NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory). That’s very big trouble.

Antarctica is starting to succumb to global heat much earlier than expected. It’s overwhelmed by the human footprint emitting greenhouse gases with abandon, for example, human CO2 emitted into the atmosphere: (a) 5 billion tons in 1950 (b) 25 billion tons in 2000 (c) 37 billion tons in 2022.

As a result, Greenland slumps in a hyper melt mode. Coincidentally, at the same time as Greenland slumps, America’s congressional Republican Party threatens big cuts to climate funding in President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act that allocated $375B to fight global warming. They want to cut climate funding at the same time as global heat celebrates all-time hotness across the world. The paradox is too obvious to ignore. Yet, paradox or contradiction, as it were, may not be strong enough language to fully explain the depths of degeneracy.

In sharp contrast to America’s helpless misinformed, the China Meteorological Administration’s Blue Book on Climate Change rolled out only recently. Here’s what China says: “It is essential for us to unite with the international community to confront climate change. On the one hand, we need to strengthen our scientific understanding and continue conducting in-depth research on climate change. Besides this, we must actively adapt to climate change by enhancing our capacity to cope with climate risks and disasters. Most importantly, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various means to mitigate climate warming. We can start by taking action on an individual level and collaborating with society as a whole to alleviate the impact of climate change.” (Source: Extreme Heat Events in China Ever More Frequent: Blue Book, Global Times, July 2023)

China’s “breath of fresh air” is in sharp contrast to America’s Republican-backed initiative of 17 amendments whacking Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, demonstrating the preposterousness of shallow infantile blabber versus mature adult foresight.

Meantime, according to very smart scientists: “Greenland’s melt rate has gone into hyperdrive in the past few years.” (Source: ’Devastating’ Melt of Greenland, Antarctic Ice Sheets Found, Phys.org, April 20, 2023) Its average melt rate from 2017-2020 was +20% more per year than at the start of the decade and an astounding seven (7) times more than the 1990s. That’s super-duper speed for a big chunk of ice perceived as stationary. It should scare the living daylights out of the mayors of the world’s ten most vulnerable coastal cities, e.g., New York City, Miami, Bangkok, Amsterdam, Ho Chi Minh City, Cardiff, New Orleans, Manila, London, and Shenzhen.

“The new figures ‘are pretty disastrous really,’ said study co-author Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute,” Ibid.

“This is a devastating trajectory,’ said U.S. National Snow and Ice Center Deputy Lead Scientist Twila Moon, who wasn’t part of the study,” Ibid.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization reported Antarctica sea ice at record lows in the middle of winter (record lows in the winter???). According to Marilyn Raphael, Antarctica sea ice analyst at UCLA: “It’s not something that we should be comfortable with. It shouldn’t be as warm as it is. If that warming continues, it will make things go akilter.” (Source: It’s Even Hot in Antarctica, Where It’s Winter, Vox, July 13, 2023)

Antarctica going “akilter” refers to its significance to the rest of the planet. After all, it is home to 190 feet of frozen sea level rise. As if that’s not enough, what happens in Antarctica reshapes weather patterns around the world, and come to think of it, worldwide weather patterns are already in a tizzy. Antarctica determines ocean currents that destine important nutrients to nourish global fisheries, and it directly influences atmospheric circulation patterns for clouds, rainfall, and temperatures throughout the planet. All of that is already akilter.

“The sea ice and atmosphere and ocean… We just haven’t quite seen the size of the changes that are coming,” Jeremy Bassis, professor of Climate and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, “Ibid.

All of which brings to surface a very big question mark about 1.2°C above pre-industrial. According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, annual average global temperature reached 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial in 2022. Well, excuse me, but if East Antarctica’s cracked, West Antarctica’s shaky, the Peninsula’s warm, and Greenland’s in hyper meltdown, then what’s gonna happen if the world approaches the 1.5C upper limit suggested by the IPCC? More to the point, what’s gonna stop it?

According to James Hansen, the world’s leading climate scientist: “There has been a staggering increase in Earth’s energy imbalance.” (Source: James Hansen, El Nino and Global Warming Acceleration, June 14, 2023). Hansen’s dot-plot graph appears to put 1.5°C smack dab into the mid/late 2020s. That’s way-way ahead of the IPCC’s schedule. Ergo, if the worldwide climate disaster scene of 2022/23 is what happens at 1.2C, then what happens at 1.5C?

By now, everybody’s aware (well, almost everybody) since the start of the 21st century, human-generated global warming has overtaken, overwhelmed nature’s true course. A prime example: The Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica was stable for 60 years of observation until all-of-a-sudden in 2015-2020 it retreated by 18 miles in only five years in celebration of its two-year birthday of CO2 crossing over 400 ppm for the first time in human history, May 2013. (Source: Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier are Losing Ice Faster Than at any Time in the Past 5000 Years, The International Thwaites Collaboration, June 30, 2022)

Beware of the Antarctic summer!

Robert Hunziker is a journalist from Los Angeles

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