09 November 2007

Keeping tabs on Antarctica

Here is the latest news from Antarctica, the southernmost continent. For past posts on the region on planet doom?, see here.


After an early start and a rapid decrease in ozone levels earlier in the season, the area of the ozone hole is currently below the 1997-2006 average. Recent news reports have noted that this is due to the relatively mild weather conditions, not a sign of the expected recovery. That is still a decade or two off, at the minimum. The image showing the hole is from the NASA Ozone Watch website. There are also some nice time series plots of the current year, as well as graphs showing the interannual variability. The decreased intensity of this year's hole is consistent with forecasts made back in August by the WMO.


A look at the time series found at Cryosphere Today reveals that the annual melting of the sea ice has begun. Last winter, sea ice reached its maximum annual extent, and still remains anomalously high at this time. After the record melts in the Arctic earlier this year, it will be interesting to see what happens in the south. As noted in a previous post, paleo-climate studies show that an asymmetric response to climate forcing between the hemispheres is possible. Hence, there is no reason to expect a record melt in Antartica and the lack of such says nothing about the reality of ongoing global warming and climate change.

A large iceberg was seen calving off the Pine Island glacier, part of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. See this page at NSIDC for a recent high resolution image of the iceberg. This is apparently a natural phenomenon, occurring every 5-10 years. The iceberg is approximately 70 000 ha in size. The glacier itself is thinning and accelerating towards the sea, but the iceberg is neither a part of nor a consequence of that longer-term change.

As noted in a previous post, the trends in the behaviour of the ice in Antarctica are complex and difficult to decipher. The mass of the ice is apparently of getting less, while the area increases. Anecdotally, the ice in the region has been retreating over the past 15 years. Understanding these behaviour of the ice is crucial for a better understanding of cryosphere/climate system interactions.

Science Activities

As noted above, science and research activities are extremely important in Antarctica and the austral spring is when the activities begin in earnest. Several projects have made the news recently. Some efforts are going into the development of techniques to measure the thickness of the sea ice. Others are attempting to install seismographs or GPS units to measure movements of the ice, with the hope of better understanding the dynamics of the ice sheets and glaciers and their interaction with the land below. These projects mentioned represent only a small part of the science activity which is undertaken during the summer months. Many activities are being undertaken under the auspices of the International Polar Year.


In my last post about Antarctica, I expressed the hope that we humans could avoid the return to the 16th century and the race to claim land to exploit it for nationalistic selfish purposes. Alas, it is not to be. We humans are going to ruin the last unspoilt place on Earth, all to 'safeguard the future'. The UK is investigating making a claim on the surrounding seabeds. China is sending its largest team in two decades this summer to reassert its presence on the continent. Chile isn't backing down from its long-standing claims. Australia actually has the largest claim, but what can they do if their claim is jumped? None of these claims is actually valid at this time because of the Antarctic Treaty, but as it becomes more apparent that we have passed peak oil. I would suspect that all bets are off. Like any addict, our insatiable 'jones' will destroy any moral or ethical qualms we may have. Let's hope there isn't any oil down there...

I find it extremely sad -- but entirely predictable -- that this is happening. We, as a species, should be pulling together now to prevent the larger disaster lurking on the horizon, wrought by the confluence of climate change, peak oil, overpopulation and the like. Instead, we continue with our neo-liberal corporatist ways, externalizing all costs to the environment, in search of the almighty dollar (soon to be euro?). Humans are in deep trouble...I suspect sooner that we think.


Thanks to llewelly for pointing me to the Cryosphere Today website.

For a more thorough take on the societal collapse type stuff, check out the Survival Acres blog. I like the writing there, but personally try to maintain a more positive attitude...

No comments: