Global warming takes a whole new nasty turn

Unfortunately, things are not improving on the global warming front, especially over the past fortnight. Concerns have escalated further since East Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, experienced an unprecedented bout of warm weather and an ice floe the size of New York collapsed, early of a period of monstrous heat. Last week’s collapse, captured by satellite images, is a first in human history in the frigid region which recorded above normal temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius. The area had been shrinking rapidly over the past two years, and now scientists are wondering if they overestimated East Antarctica’s stability and resilience to global warming that rapidly melted the ice on the short west side and the vulnerable peninsula. Ironically, the region has long been considered stable and unaffected by climate change.
The pack ice, about 1,200 km² wide and holding back warmer water from the Conger and Glenzer glaciers, collapsed between March 14 and 16, according to ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent, which makes it worrying. “The Glenzer Conger Ice Shelf was probably there for thousands of years and it will never be there again,” said University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff. Although the ice loss was minimal, what is alarming is where it happened, the two said.
Previous assumptions about East Antarctica’s stability may not be correct, Neff worries. If the frozen water in East Antarctica melted – in a millennial process, if not more – it would lift seas around the world by more than 160 feet. That’s more than five times the ice of the more vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where scientists have focused much of their research. Helen Amanda Fricker, co-director of the Scripps Polar Center at the University of California, San Diego, said researchers need to spend more time examining this part of the continent. Scientists had seen this particular ice shelf – the closest to Australia – shrink quite a bit since the 1970s, Neff said. Then in 2020, shelf ice loss accelerated to lose about half of itself every month or so, Walker said.
The event is totally unprecedented and upends expectations about Antarctica’s climate system, said Jonathan Wille, a researcher studying polar meteorology at Grenoble Alpes University in France. “Antarctic climatology has been rewritten,” tweeted Stefano Di Battista, a researcher who has published studies of Antarctic temperatures. Such temperature anomalies would have been considered “impossible” and “unthinkable” before they actually happened, he added.
Amid all the variability in Antarctica, the fingerprints of human-caused climate change are still evident. Its western ice cap is losing mass while the western parts of the continent and the peninsula are among the fastest warming regions on Earth. Warm ocean temperatures threaten to destabilize Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized slab that contributes about 4% of annual sea level rise. to an exceptional heat pulse on the other side of the planet. On March 16, temperatures near the North Pole catapulted 50 degrees above normal, near the melting point.
However, one expert thinks only part of East Antarctica is of concern. “Most of East Antarctica is relatively safe, relatively invulnerable and some areas are vulnerable to it,” said British Antarctic Survey geophysicist Rob Larter. “The overall effect of climate change around East Antarctica is that it’s chipping away at the edges of the ice sheets in some places, but it’s actually adding more snow in the middle.” The takeaway is that more needs to be done to limit global warming.

Teresa H. Sadler