A new climate report, released earlier this week, paints a dire picture for the ice sheets in west Antarctica. According to climate data collected by NASA, the region located along the Amundsen Sea is warming quicker than expected, as temperatures of ocean currents rise, pushing the effects of global climate change there “past the point of no return.”
The new study stitched together data collected by satellite and flyovers by aircraft, to get a comprehensive look at how the Antarctic ice sheets are changing. After analyzing the findings, glaciologist Eric Rignot, co-author of the report, described the melting as “unstoppable” at this point.
While the paper says it will still take several centuries for the melt-off to occur, the ice located in the glaciers in question contain enough water to raise sea levels by as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters). That is enough to have a substantial impact on coastlines across the globe, and the cities that sit along the waters edge. That impact will most likely be felt in this century however, as estimates see a 1-3 foot rise in water levels by the year 2100. That is enough to displace tens of millions of people across the globe.
This particular area of Antarctica is hit harder by climate change than other regions due to the fact that the ice sheets sit on a shelf that actually rests below sea level. As the ocean currents have warmed, the increased temperatures are brought directly to the ice itself, causing them to melt at a substantially higher rate. That rate has increased by as much as 77% since 1973, when the data used in the study was first conducted.
Obviously, I write a lot about Antarctica, and the adventurous endeavors that take place there. It is one of the last great wildernesses on our planet, with vast regions that are still unexplored. These kinds of reports make it clear that the frozen continent is undergoing drastic changes at the moment, just like those that we’ve seen taking place at the top of the world in the Arctic. The fact that some people still question climate change is baffling to me. The consequences of what are happening to our planet have now moved past the point of whether or not it is man-made, and to the point where it doesn’t really matter what is causing it, we need to figure out how to adapt to the changes, and have as little impact on the environment as possible.
I geography professor I had in college routinely use to say, “we’re not destroying the planet, we’re destroying ourselves.” This seems to be the case here. In the greater scheme of things, the Earth will heal itself over time. It may take millions of years, but it will correct any impact that man has had on it. Those millions of years are just a blink of an eye in terms of geologic history, but that is plenty of time to completely wipe out all semblance of man. The Earth will go on without us, especially if we don’t start thinking about ways to treat it better, and accept the changes that it is going through. It isn’t too late for the planet, I just hope it isn’t too late for us.
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