111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Antarctica on edge

East Antarctica, often times referred to as ‘the final frontier of global warming’, is making headlines once again. A few weeks ago East Antarctica’s temperatures soared by 50F to 90F above normal.

A couple of weeks later East Antarctica’s Conger Ice Shelf (1,200 sq km) completely collapsed and two additional calving events occurred at other glaciers, all in the same week.

This prompts an interesting dilemma. According to David Spratt, research director of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne: Early IPCC reports said Antarctica would be stable for a thousand years. Then, in 2007 Richard Alley (Penn State) said it was already melting 100 years ahead of schedule. Is it ahead of schedule once again?

Indeed, if Antarctica continues beating climate models by first lopping off a few centuries and then lopping off decades, and now who knows what the outcome will be or when it’ll happen.

East Antarctica, as distinguished from its far more vulnerable first cousins West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, has always been characterized as solid, a rock-solid 1-to-3-mile thick ice sheet the size of the United States that does not budge. Now, it’s budging. On or about March 15th Conger Ice Shelf, East Antarctica completely collapsed. This collapse followed record temperatures of 40C plus warmer than seasonal norms only a week previous.

According to Helen Amanda Fricker, professor of glaciology at Scripps Polar Center, three calving events occurred in East Antarctica in the month of March: One, Conger Ice Shelf. Two, Glenzer Ice Shelf. Three, a smaller event at the enormous Totten glacier. ‘Much of East Antarctica is restrained by buttressing ice shelves, so we need to keep an eye on all the ice shelves there’.

Moreover, according to Peter Neff, glaciologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, even a small ice shelf collapse (Conger) in East Antarctica was a surprise, in fact: “We still treat East Antarctica like this massive, high, dry, cold and immovable ice cube”.

In February 2019, John Englander, oceanographer and world-renown sea level expert, spoke at The Royal Institution, London. He discussed sea level rise. The ice shelves are the buttresses that hold back rapid flow of glacial ice from flowing to the sea.

Englander said: When warming cycles happen, sea level rise usually takes centuries and centuries to increase. For example, 14,000 years ago an increase in temperatures took seas up 65 feet over 400 years. Accordingly, that’s 1.5 feet per decade, which calculation led John Englander to factor into an assumption that today’s sea level rise will be 1-2-3 feet by mid 21st century.

Excerpted: ‘Antarctica on Edge’

Robert Hunziker, "Antarctica on edge," The News. 2022-03-29.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate change , Climate restoration , Global warming , Glaciologist , Temperatures , Richard Alley , Helen Amanda Fricker , London , Melbourne , IPCC