Special BBC Report: The Vanishing Antarctica

May 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Climate Change

Many of you may recognise the British Antarctic Survey scientists in this special BBC News report. Check it out!

“The Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica is one of the worlds largest rivers of ice and it has almost doubled its speed in the last 30 years.”  “Its behaviour has left scientists confused and concerned.” “The ice here is melting faster than just about anyone thought possible. It’s beginning to look like the greatest vanishing act on earth.” – presenter Richard Wilson

Hugh Corr is an aerogeophysicist. Back in 1997, he was working on a vast expanse of floating ice called Larsen-B. It was displaying worrying signs of collapse. “We knew it was going to go at some point.” Now it’s gone. In the beginning of 2002 it was there. But in less than two weeks it vanished. Completely and unexpectedly. Why did it collapse? How could it happen so fast? Tasmen Gray is a climatologist on the peninsula. “It’s one of the fastest warming places on the planet.” It’s increasing at a rate ten times the rest of the planet.

Ice shelves restrain the glaciers behind it.  That fact is now clear from the speedup of the glacier after the collapse of Larsen-B. In the 6 months after the collapse the glaciers behind the ice shelf lost about 30 metres in height as they melted and sped toward the sea. Ice shelves float and do not contribute to sea level rise.  But the glaciers behind them, the same glaciers that are now racing toward the open ocean, do increase sea level. Ice can be swift and volatile.  Scientists now fear what could happen if the rising temperatures spread over West Antarctica.  Until recently this area was considered safe from rapid melting.  Now something has made them change their minds.  It is melting more than 100 times faster than expected. Scientists didn’t know why until recently. Using an unmanned robot submarine they found that the sea temperature was increasing – melting the ice sheet from below – eating at its underbelly.  It’s now believed that the melting of the Pine Island Glacier and the West Antarctic Ice shelf may be the biggest factor in sea level rise this century.  In 2007 the UN report on climate change estimated a 0.59 metre rise in sea levels by 2100. David Vaughn will be a lead author of the next 2014 IPCC report: “All projections of sea level rise, all projections of climate change are out of date as soon as they are published.”  If the threatened part of Pine Island goes, it alone could raise the world’s sea levels by 30 cm. But the great coastal cities of the world could be swamped by 5 metres of water if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet follows it. Other detailed measurements have confirmed that the ice shelf is melting right under the feet of the scientists.

For more, please view this BBC News report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011110v/Our_World_The_Vanishing_Antarctica/

This is available now through 13 May 2011

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