“Antarctic Glacier Melt Could Be Double Trouble”
The Washington Post, March 17, 2015, p.A3
“A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise. Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. … The findings about East Antarctica emerge from a new paper just out in Nature Geoscience by an international team of scientists representing the United States, Britain, France and Australia. They flew a number of research flights over the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica — the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet — and took a variety of measurements to try to figure out the reasons behind its retreat. And the news wasn’t good: It appears that Totten, too, is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it. … The floating ice shelf of the Totten Glacier covers an area of 90 miles by 22 miles. It it is losing an amount of ice ‘equivalent to 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbour every year,’ notes the Australian Antarctic Division. That’s alarming, because the glacier holds back a much more vast catchment of ice that, were its vulnerable parts to flow into the ocean, could produce a sea level rise of more than 11 feet — which is comparable to the impact from a loss of the West Antarctica ice sheet. … Much as with the ocean-abutting glaciers of West Antarctica, just because a retreat has been observed — and because the entirety of the region implies a sea level rise of 11 or more feet were all ice to end up in the ocean — does not mean that we’ll see anything near that much sea level rise in our lifetimes. These processes generally are expected to play out over hundreds of years or more. They would reshape the face of the Earth – but we may never see it. The problem, then, is more the world we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren — because once such a gigantic geophysical process begins, it’s hard to see how it comes to a halt.”
Quickie analysis: Well, dang. It’s looking more and more like we’ve passed the point of no return on massive climate change.