Ocean warming off Antarctica could trigger rapid sea-level rise

On a warming planet, most of the ice field covering West Antarctica would be lost, researchers conclude.


We’ve all heard the saying: “The best way to predict the future is to study the past.” And that’s exactly what climate scientists are doing to predict future global sea-levels.

recent study led by Chris Turney, Professor of Earth and Climate Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia, explains that during the last interglacial period, about 129,000-116,000 years ago, Antarctica experienced a massive thaw that caused sea levels to rise up to three metres in some parts of the planet. According to Turney, temperatures across the polar oceans were less than 2°C above current values, and an ocean temperature rise of less than 2°C led to that scenario.

This is a cause for concern in present-day, as we continue to see temperatures rise at an unprecedented rate in the polar regions — thus causing ice to melt more rapidly and subsequently contributing to rising sea-levels. On a warming planet, most of the ice field covering western Antarctica would be lost, researchers conclude.

Getz Ice shelf Large NASA icebridge An aerial photo of the Getz Glacier ice shelf front on November 5, 2016, reveals water so clear that you can see some underwater portions of the ice shelf, including two cavities being hollowed out near the water line. Source: NASA Operation Ice Bridge photo.


This past February 6th, temperatures measured at the Argentine research base of Esperanza reached 18.3°C. That was officially the highest temperature measured in the southern continent on record, exceeding the previous record set in March 2015 with a high of 17.3°C. The surprising thing is that a few days later, on February 9th, the thermometer at the Argentine base of Marambio, located on Seymour Island, registered an even higher temperature of 20.75°C.

These temperatures are not common, and although they are certainly eye-openers, scientists investigating climate change in Antarctica have pointed out that they cannot be directly attributed to anthropogenic climate change affecting the region.

What really worries those investigating the metamorphosis that Antarctica is experiencing this decade, is the rise in ocean temperatures as it relates to accelerated ice melt and its potential contribution to sea-level rise.

Pine Island glacier larger NASA The Pine Island Glacier drains part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Amundsen Sea via Pine Island Bay. Recently, the glacier has been calving massive icebergs, such as this one, designated B-46, captured in a NASA satellite image from November 7th, 2018. Image by NASA Earth Observatory.


Unlike the East Antarctic ice sheet, which is mainly on high terrain, the West Antarctic ice platform rests on a seabed. It is bordered by large areas of floating ice that protect the main section of the ice field. As ocean water warms and travels through the lower cavities of these platforms, the ice below melts, reducing the thickness of the platforms, making the central ice sheet highly vulnerable to higher water temperatures.

While most scientists investigating Antarctica drill vertically into the ice core to extract samples, Turney’s team used a different method; the horizontal analysis of the ice core, based on isotope data collected from samples of volcanic ash, gases and DNA from bacteria trapped in the ice. The rate at which the ice fields of West Antarctica melt indicates that this region of the continent is especially vulnerable to ocean warming. In addition, this mantle of ice rests on oceanic waters that continue to warm year after year.

A look at the future of Antarctica’s ice melt, via numerical simulations conducted by the research team, shows the clear impact ocean warming would have on Antarctic ice sheets several centuries from now. For example, if we saw a warming of 2°C over the next thousand years, sea level would rise around 3.8 metres. The simulations also indicate that over the next 200 years, ice fields would melt first, with sea level subsequently increasing.

Cruise ship deep heat flux data NASA

Map 1 : Heat flux into the deep ocean (below 2,000 meters) between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, based on repeat ship cruise data. Places where the deep ocean gained heat are red; places where it lost heat are blue. NOAA Climate.gov map, based on data provided by Greg Johnson.

Scientists also worry if this continuous rise in sea temperatures will end up affecting other areas of Antarctica. If so, the excess energy could accelerate ice melt beyond a tipping point that would eventually amplify ice melt even further while leading to much higher sea levels across the globe.


Sea-level rise could flood hundreds of millions more than expected

Princeton researchers found that far more people are living closer to the ocean than previously believed.

Photograph of Rangapani Road, Asham Bosti, Bangladesh

By the end of this century, rising oceans will almost certainly flood the lands where tens of millions of people live as accelerating climate change warms the waters and melts ice sheets.

But precise estimates of the vulnerable populations depend on precise measurements of the planet’s topography, to understand just how close to sea level communities have settled.

A new study that seeks to correct for known errors in earlier elevation models finds that researchers might have been undercounting the number of people exposed to rising tides by hundreds of millions. That’s three to four times more people than previously projected, depending on the specific scenarios.

If these higher estimates prove correct, it will dramatically increase the damages and casualties from sea-level rise, swell the costs of adaption efforts like constructing higher seawalls, and escalate mass migration away from the coasts.

Many of the estimates to date have relied on essentially a three-dimensional map of the planet produced from a radar system that flew on board NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour in 2000. SOURCE

6 Glimmers of Climate Optimism for the End of a Dark Year

It was a year of frightening reports on the future of our planet. But sustainability experts are still feeling optimistic about some of the strides we’ve made this year.

Photo: Victor Rodriguez/Unsplash

In 2018, we learned from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have around 30 years to fully decarbonize or risk widespread global devastation from warming and sea-level rise. We also learned that current emissions patterns are nowhere near in line with that goal. Even though the Trump administration tried to bury the U.S.’s own findings on climate, the 1,656-page National Climate Assessment backed up the IPCC report, and called for a doubling down on climate protection policies to prevent damage (which is already underway) to the environment and the country’s infrastructure.

The consensus among scientists, researchers, and sustainability experts following this years’ reports is that while stopping climate change will require an undoubtedly Herculean effort, the biggest hurdle is political, not technical. In other words, if all the innovations in sustainable technology and science were harnessed and directed at reducing emissions and environmental collapse, we might stand a chance at meeting the goals laid out in the reports.

Don’t get us wrong: It will take a heroic, global effort if we’re even going to come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius–the point after which, according to the reports, large swaths of the planet will become uninhabitable, and issues like mass starvation will become widespread. And the lack of leadership from the United States, under climate change denier Donald Trump, is making cohesive political action difficult.

But underneath all this, activists, scientists, and business leaders are working to advance progressive climate action, and despite everything, have hung onto a sense of optimism as we move into 2019. Here are some reasons why:

1. We Have the Potential to Radically Shift the Way We Eat

Image result for burger

On the heels of the IPCC report, the World Resources Institute released research tracking global meat consumption, and found that food production, especially animal agriculture, accounts for around a quarter of all emissions. It’s the single-largest driver of climate change. This makes a pretty compelling case for wide-scale adoption of vegetarianism and veganism, but far more importantly, should clue in food distributors, like restaurants and grocery stores, that they need to change their offerings. That’s already happening. This year, the plant-based Impossible Burger started appearing everywhere from airline menus to fast-food restaurants, and is preparing to launch in grocery storesJust, another startup, is growing real meat in bioreactors, which dramatically reduces emissions and the environmental footprint of meat production. It’s possible, now, to imagine a future where factory-farm-produced meat is replaced by plant-based versions, or meat grown in labs.

2. We Can Grow More Food Without Damaging the Environment

“Over the last century, we’ve relied heavily on fertilizer to meet the food demands of a growing population,” says Karsten Temme, CEO of the startup Pivot Bio. Fertilizer is most commonly made from synthetic nitrogen, which is easy to produce and distribute, but releases a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Synthetic nitrogen alone is responsible for around 5% of global warming. Next year, Temme’s startup will begin delivering a new, natural alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to farmers. Pivot Bio’s product consists of natural, nitrogen-producing microbes that adhere to plants’ roots, supporting plant growth while eradicating the need for environment-damaging synthetic versions. Especially as populations grow and land constricts due to climate change, well-fertilized crops will be necessary to meet food demands. MORE

‘This is a wake-up call’: swift action needed on rising seas, experts say

Waves pound the shore on a closed section of Highway 207 in Lawrencetown, N.S. on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.Waves pound the shore on a closed section of Highway 207 in Lawrencetown, N.S. on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Worrying figures released this week on the rising seas in Atlantic Canada should prompt governments and citizens to move more swiftly to protect coastal buildings and vital transport links, say flooding experts.

Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview Friday that projections of 75 centimetres to one metre of relative sea level rise for the East Coast by the end of the century are “a wake up call and a call to arms.”

He was reacting to Chapter 7 of Canada’s Changing Climate Report, which includes a survey of federal science on sea level rise under various emissions scenarios developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Feltmate points to the study’s predictions for quadrupling of flooding along the Halifax waterfront as sea levels rise 20 centimetres over current levels by mid century.

Blair Greenan, a federal oceanographer who oversaw the oceans chapter of the report, said in an interview that without any adaptation measures, flooding during Halifax storms will be noticeable in just a decade as relative sea level goes up about 10 centimetres.

“It will probably have doubled,” he said during an interview. “It is an important point that southern Atlantic Canada is the highest risk area in Canada for sea level rise.”



The federal study also highlights the vulnerability of the Chignecto Isthmus – a low-lying, 20-kilometre band of land which joins Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, said Feltmate.

Principles Of The Sunrise Movement: Antidotes To Neoliberalism

The term “neoliberalism” isn’t new. It was coined in 1938 at a meeting in which social democracy was framed as analogous to a collectivism like Nazism and communism. But neoliberalism today is a conundrum: its slimy tendrils claw into everyday Western life, yet it is so anonymous that we seldom even recognize it as a pervasive ideology. Neoliberalism pushes deregulation on economies around the world, forces open national markets to trade and capital, and demands that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatization.

neoliberalismNeoliberalism’s anonymity is its essential symptom and cause of its power, and the Sunrise movement is seeking to make the consequences of neoliberalism transparent in society. You know Sunrise, even if you can’t immediately grasp why. They’re the cohort of primarily college-aged activists who are promoting the Green New Deal. You saw pictures of their sit-in in front of Nancy Pelosi’s congressional office in the news and on 60 Minutes when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined them in support of objectives to virtually eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a decade.

The earth is on track for 3-4 C degrees of warming, which would cause sea level rise of several feet and make extreme weather more frequent and dangerous, among other consequences. The next 4 to 12 years are critical if the world wants to limit that warming. Waiting to reduce greenhouse gases will make the challenge harder.

The Sunrise Movement is working to build a cohort of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across the US, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people. MORE

‘We Are Watching the Ice Sheet Hit a Tipping Point’: Greenland Melting Even Faster Than Feared

“The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming—it’s too late for there to be no effect.”

fjord is seen from the air in southwest Greenland
A fjord is seen from the air in southwest Greenland, where new research shows ice is melting even more rapidly that scientists previously feared. (Photo: NASA/Maria-Jose Viñas)

While climate scientists have repeatedly raised alarm about the how human-caused global warming is driving “off the charts” ice loss in Greenland that will contribute to devastating sea level rise, a new analysis of a less studied region has ramped up those concerns, revealing that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting even faster than previously thought.

“We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point,” warned lead author Michael Bevis, a geodynamics professor at Ohio State University. “We’re going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future.”

Researchers often look at ice loss from large glaciers in Greenland’s southeast and northwest regions. However, this study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that the most sustained ice loss during the decade following 2003 was in the island’s southwest region.

“Whatever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” noted Bevis. “It had to be the surface mass—the ice was melting inland from the coastline.” MORE


Melting Arctic ice is now pouring 14,000 tons of water per second into the ocean, scientists find

A new survey finds that the region has contributed almost an inch to rising seas since 1971

A melting iceberg floats along a fjord leading away from the edge of the Greenland ice sheet near Nuuk, Greenland, in 2011. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

new scientific survey has found that the glaciers of the Arctic are the world’s biggest contributors to rising seas, shedding ice at an accelerating rate that now adds well over a millimeter to the level of the ocean every year.

That is considerably more ice melt than Antarctica is contributing, even though the Antarctic contains far more ice. Still, driven by glacier clusters in Alaska, Canada and Russia and the vast ice sheet of Greenland, the fast-warming Arctic is outstripping the entire ice continent to the south — for now.

However, the biggest problem is that both ice regions appear to be accelerating their losses simultaneously — suggesting that we could be in for an even faster rate of sea-level rise in future decades. Seas are rising by about three millimeters each year, according to NASA. That’s mainly driven by the Arctic contribution, the Antarctic and a third major factor — that ocean water naturally expands as it warms. MORE