In a report out yesterday the U.S. Geological Survey presents stats from a 62-year-long study that show that “every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990.” While the hows and whys of global climate change can be argued ad infinitum, in my experience nowhere is the change more evident than along the Peninsula. The USGS report adds statistics to my empirical assessment.
I’m writing today from home in a very, very wet Hudson Valley; we’ve endured three straight days of falling snow and rain (temperature hovering at 31 degrees F), which means the outside world now resembles a slush swimming pool. I just came in from an investigative slosh and can report calf-deep mush. The relevance of this warm snowfall in New York State in a conversation about Antarctica? With both air and sea surface temperatures warming all along the 1,000-mile long Peninsula, on many austral summer days the ice along its edges resembles what’s just outside my door tonight: Wet. Slushy. Soft. And disappearing fast. Here in the Catskills the temperatures will get into the 40s in the next few days; flooding is already a major concern. Which is exactly what is happening along the Peninsula during these past two decades too: Warmer air and sea temperatures means less ice cover, thus more evaporation and more precipitation in the form of sleet and rain. And we all know what rain does to ice, makes it disappear very, very fast.
I’m fully expecting my basement to flood in the next few days, which will be a drag. I’m also fully expecting the ice along Antarctic’s Peninsula to disappear faster than most scientists believe, contributing to a minimum global sea level rise of twenty feet by the end of the century or before, which will be a major drag. Especially for the 200 million-plus people around the globe who currently live less than three feet above sea level.
In its press release the USGS explained that the area covered by its six-decade-long study contains five major ice shelves, the Wilkins, George VI, Bach, Stange and the southern portion of the Larsen Ice Shelf. “The ice lost since 1998 from the Wilkins Ice Shelf alone totals more than 4,000 square kilometers, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island,” reports the USGS.
But for me the most worrying part of its report is this: “Retreat along the southern part of the Peninsula is of particular interest because that area has the Peninsula’s coolest temperatures, demonstrating that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula.” Which means what in regard to the planet’s big picture? Everyone should do what I’m going to do later tonight in preparation for tomorrow, which is find the tallest pair of rubber boots I can.