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August 15 2012


"Goliath" Melting Year Shatters Records in Greenland

It’s been a “Goliath,” record-setting melting year in Greenland, home of the world’s second largest ice shelf. On August 8th, a full four weeks before the end of “melting season,” cumulative melting on the island had exceeded the previous record set in 2010, which included the full season.

The record melt was figured by the “cumulative melting index,” created by researcher Marco Tedesco of The City College of New York’s Cryosphere Processes Laboratory to measure the “strength” of the melting season. The index is basically the number of days when melting occurs multiplied by the physical area that is subject to melting.

Tedesco said in a statement, “With more yet to come in August, this year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records. That’s a goliath year — the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979.”

Earlier this summer, much was made of a massive melt event on Greenland, during which 97 percent of the island’s ice sheet surface area experienced thaw and melt over a short couple of days. While the event was startling, and a direct result of record high surface air temperatures, this measure of the overall melting is far more alarming.

The mid-July event, according to Tedesco, “generated liquid water that refroze after a few days, changing the physical properties of the snowpack but very likely not contributing to the meltwater that run offs from the ice and can potentially contribute to sea level rise.”

The cumulative melting index, on the other hand, accounts for longer-term melting trends, during which meltwater can flow into the ocean. According to Tedesco’s research, Greenland experienced “extreme” melting across most regions, especially in the south, west, northwest and northeast, particularly at high elevations.

These high elevation areas, according to Tedesco, “are generally subject to a few days of melting (if it happens at all) and this year they underwent melting for more than 2 months (so far).

But perhaps a map is worth a thousand words. Here you see the 2012 anomaly of the number of melting days with respect to a 20 year average from 1980-1999. The areas in red are where melting lasted for up to 50 days more than that baseline.

Of course, plenty of deniers will argue that Greenland was once green, and that melt events like this occur regularly and Medieval Warm Period and so on and so forth.

To which you can reply: the surface air temperatures in Greenland are warmer now than at any point in recorded history, dating back 172 years, and are likely, according to Jason Box of Ohio State University, the highest they’ve been since the time the Norse colonized Greenland in 982.

And, yes, while temperatures were abnormally warm in Greenland then, during the Medieval Warm Period, globally temperatures were actually cooler than they are today.

As this handy map reveals, over much of the globe, temperatures were actually cooler during the MWP, relative to the averages from 1961-1990.

In other words, the Medieval Warm Period was really a regional, not global phenomenon. The warming trends we see today are global, as this next map clearly shows, also based on temperature variation from the same 1961-1990 baseline.

(Both maps courtesy of Skeptical Science)

And what’s more: the warming of the Medieval Warm Period was caused by factors that simply aren’t in play today, specifically solar radiation. The causes of the Medieval Warm Period’s regional temperature increases aren’t the same as those causing the global increases today. 

So, it's true, as Tedesco warned, that "we have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia."

But he continues, "the warming that we see in the Arctic is responsible for triggering processes that enhance melting and for the feedback mechanisms that keep it going. Looking over the past few years, the exception has become part of the norm."

And it's worth keeping in mind that what we're seeing has been forecast by climate models that warn of sea level rise driven by ice loss from Greenland. The only difference is that these models didn't anticipate so much warming — and melting — so soon. 

April 26 2012


Greenland and the Great Ice Dilema

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting fast, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder-based Cooperative Institute Research in Environmental Sciences. This is largely (if not entirely) due to the massive releases of meltwater, which come from surface lakes. The supraglacial lakes are draining more frequently, which very well may affect the rise of the sea level.

In the summer, meltwater gathers on the surface of the ice sheet. When a large enough lake forms, the ice beneath it cracks, forming what some call a “vertical drainpipe.” Massive amounts of water get sucked down beneath the ice sheet.
More meltwater is being sucked through the ice than before due to global warming. Estimates are that enough water to fill 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools funnels down through the ice bed, turning the ice-bed surface into a “slip ‘n’ slide” which quickens the ice sheet’s presumed inevitable slide into the ocean. This will cause sea levels to rise dramatically, which could be catastrophic, particularly to those living near the coast.

There is hope that this won’t happen, however. An alternate scenario suggests the lake draining through the ice bed just might carve out sub-glacial “sewers,” which would channel the water directly to the ocean. This would prevent the ice sheet’s slide into the ocean, at least in the near future.

So what can you do to help slow down global warming and similar environmental issues? One  place to start is at home. Consider installing solar panels and become part of the new energy economy by generating energy that doesn’t require burning fossil fuels.

Hopefully the Greenland ice sheet will remain intact for many more years to come.

Photo Credit: Blmiers2 via Flicker Creative Commons

September 14 2011


Arctic sea ice: factfile

Two reports in the last week have warned that Arctic sea ice levels are at their lowest for several decades. Here are some facts about ice in the polar regions:
Tags: arctic melt ice sea

February 18 2011


Green Roof Collapses in Illinois

Investigators are still trying to determine why a 700-by-50 foot section of a roof over a parking area buckled at a garden pond construction and supply company.

December 03 2010


Arctic elegy: a lament for the disappearing ice

What will the rapid warming of the polar icecaps mean for future generations?

September 16 2010


Walrus Again Forced to Flee Melting Arctic Sea Ice

Walrus on melting iceWe first reported in 2007 of Walrus pushed off Arctic sea ice due to unusually an unusually low Arctic sea ice extent in the eastern Chukchi Sea, where they normally spend their summers breeding and feeding in the shallow waters of the continental shelf. For the third time in the past four years Walrus again find themselves forced onto land due to retreating sea ice.

This year marks the third lowest Arctic sea ice extent since sattellite monitoring of seasonal sea ice melt began, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, continuing the trend toward an ice free summer for the Arctic. Thus far 2010 is tied with 1998 as the warmest year on record. The disappearing ice and warming climate is bad new not only for walrus, but polar bear and other marine mammals that depend on the northern ice.

Recent reports from the US Geological Survey have shown between ten and twenty thousand Walrus have congregated in a “desne clump” at Point Lay, Alaska. Forced onto land, feeding becomes more difficult and raises concerns that the easily spooked animals will stampede, say wildlife experts.

Our biggest concern right now is stampeding,” says Bruce Woods from the US Fish and Wildlife regional office in Alaska, “That’s the big risk posed to these animals.”

With adult female Walrus typically weighing in at about one ton, the risk is  greatest for the younger members of the group. Last year 131 Walrus were trampled when they sought shelter from retreating ice along the shore of Icy Cape, Alaska. Most of the animals killed were juveniles. Similar reports of deadly stampedes have also been reported in the Russian Arctic.

In response to the propensity of Walrus to be easily frightened, a buffer zone has been suggested by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), asking ships to maintain a distance of one-half mile from the coast and airplanes to maintain an altitude of at least 1500 feet and lateral distance of one-half mile.

The FWS is in the process of considering protecting the Walrus under the Endangered Species Act, and must decide whether or not to proceed with listing by January of 2011.

June 09 2010


May 25 2010


Global warming is 'making Mount Everest more dangerous to climb'

Mount Everest is becoming increasingly dangerous to climb because global warming is melting glacier ice along its slopes, according to a Nepalese Sherpa who has conquered the world's highest summit 20 times.

April 30 2010


A Snowball Effect Heats the Arctic

A destabilizing feedback loop driven by melting ice is at work in the Arctic.

April 04 2010


Arctic ice increased during freezing winter

The amount of sea ice covering the Arctic has dramatically increased during the cold winter, reaching levels not seen at this time of year for almost a decade.

February 22 2010


Climate change could be accelerated by 'methane time bomb'

Climate change could be accelerated dramatically by rising levels of methane in the Earth's atmosphere, scientists will warn today.

January 22 2010


Pen Hadow admits battery was the problem on Arctic climate change expedition

Problems with a battery foiled plans to measure the rate of global warming in the Arctic using a specially-designed radar, explorer Pen Hadow has been forced to admit.
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