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Icy Conditions

By PAM BERNS
The amazing photograph on our cover of the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland by Chicago photographer Terry Evans captures the beauty of  massive glaciers. She writes that the glacier was twenty stories high. It is difficult to imagine the scale of the glacier. But we can’t underestimate the importance that the ice shelves serve in our world and future, both in Greenland and western Antarctica, affecting climate throughout the world.

According to Nature Geoscience, scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University have been recording ocean currents at the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf, as well as in western Antarctica and beneath the ice shelf. The cavity created by the melting, according to an article by Thomas Schueneman, has had a growing impact of 50 percent greater than it was in the early 1990s when scientists had begun monitoring the region in western Antarctica. Researchers have reported that the melting of the glaciers is currently raising the sea levels at about .12 inches a year, which could significantly impact the possibility of the total collapse of the Pine Island Glacier and its tributaries and raise the sea level by 9 inches. Researchers say that the temperature increases are not the only causes of the melting. There is also evidence of stronger winds in the Southern ocean that are shifting ocean currents that are driving the acceleration of the melting of the Antarctic Ice Shelf and the waters beneath it.

In December Russian scientists reported finding methane plumes as large as 1000 meters in diameter under the permafrost in the Arctic, releasing methane—a gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—into the atmosphere. Some scientists are concerned that as global warming continues—as the permafrost in the Arctic and Alaska melts—methane will be released and then contribute to even more global warming.
  
According to Agence France-Press, the world is heading for a catastrophe of huge proportions. Global warming is accelerating to “high-warming, high-cost, high-risk pathway” that will take us to a temperature rise of 6.3 Fahrenheit, say German researchers.
 
Most of us are aware of the impact of global warming on the planet. Some continue to ignore it, referring to ancient history to explain that the climate is just going through one of those cycles. Yet scientists are in almost complete agreement that man has contributed to many of the current effects on the planet. Diehard holdouts who receive financial support from coal and other energy industries keep making excuses why we are exaggerating the effects of global warming. Yet, we are seeing grave consequences of even small increases (1.44 F since the beginning of the industrial revolution) in temperature. Floods, storms and droughts have already caused famines and homelessness of millions of people, according to Agence FrancePress. If we don’t curb our carbon emissions, we may never put the brakes on the road to the 6.3 F temperature rise.
  
The burning of coal is one of the major causes of the warming. It causes more carbon dioxide than the burning of any other fossil fuel. For every ton of coal that is burned, two tons of carbon dioxide are generated. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the “Global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emission of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices and other activities.”

Published: February 12, 2012
Issue: February 2012 Issue