Antarctic ice melt highlights climate threats to Australia and the world

Intro

A new report in Nature Geoscience has revealed that the Antarctic summer ice melt is occurring ten-times faster from a low 600 years ago, with the most significant increase by far occurring in the last 50 years. Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Australian National University studying ice cores found that the rapid melt has occurred after an average temperature increase of 1.6 degrees celsius, although the change is not uniform across the arctic. The research shows that climate change is manifesting on both poles both poles as reliance on fossil fuels profoundly changes the global environment, compromising critical ecosystems and economies that underpin the modern world.

Tweet

MT @TheNewOcean: #Antarctic summer #icemelt 10 times more intense over the past 50 years compared with 600 years ago. http://t.co/8051Of4buI

Key Points

  • New ice core research on the Antarctic peninsula shows that climate change is driving the fastest melting there in 1000 years, and doing so with a mere 1.6 degree increase in average temperatures.

  • Another study published simultaneously tells a different story, with little difference over 2000 years, however, the scientists note that this just reinforces the complex effects of climate change, and that the melt observed on the peninsula is “almost certainly” human-induced.

  • Multiple studies are now showing that climate impacts on Australia and its backyard are compounding, and the only way to respond to the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, to the Antarctic, and to ecosystems and economies globally is to abandon the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Background

After an Angry Summer of fires and floods, and growing  threats to its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef,  more climate impacts are emerging in Australia’s backyard, with scientists this week announcing that Antarctic ice is melting at its fastest rate in 1000 years.

The international team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Australian National University drilled a 364-metre long ice core from James Ross Island, near the northern tip of the peninsula, to establish the rapid melt. However, while their results were dramatic, the report authors warned that they could not be extrapolated to the whole Antarctic – a point supported by a second report on the West Antarctic ice sheet published by scientists at the University of Washington. The second team found that the West sheet has largely avoided the conditions affecting the peninsula to date, however, both agree that dramatic changes were “almost certainly” a result of human-induced global warming.

Overall the reports paint a complex picture of how climate change is affecting the Antarctic, but they do show that  both poles are undergoing significant and rapid change, which will only increase if countries do not drastically scale back greenhouse gas emissions, and abandon massive oil, coal and gas projects – including Australia’s coal export expansion – that will push the world beyond the internationally agreed limit of a two degree celsius average temperature increase.

Resources

Images and Infographics

Icebreaker off James Ross IslandSeals on James Ross IslandExample of an ice core, 

Coverage

ABC AustraliaThe GuardianNine NewsHuffington Post

Reports and Studies

Key quotes

  • “As the climate has warmed … the summer temperatures are getting closer and closer to that zero degrees melting threshold. Now, for every little bit of warming that happens, you get more days that go above that temperature … [and that] small increase in temperature can causes a very large increase in melting,” Dr Nerilie Abram from the Australian National University.

  • “The current levels of melting on the Antarctic Peninsula are higher than they’ve been at any other time in the last 1,000 years,” Dr Nerilie Abram from the Australian National University.

More tweets

  • RT @kuminaidoo: #Antarctic ice melting 10 times faster than 600 years ago http://t.co/0YmpMtYZ9h @abcnews #Arctic #climatechange

  • RT @msuzdak: Antarctic Warming A Tale of Two Ice Cores #climatechange #antarctic http://t.co/Z9dFxb03HG

  • RT @billmckibben: New study: carbon may turn Great Barrier Reef to slime. But oh well, it’s only the largest reef system on earth http://t.co/PVUVhLevR7