New Video: Meltwater Pulse 2B
June 2, 2014
Today’s news will be dominated by discussion of new carbon regulations proposed by the Obama administration. My contribution is to summarize the most recent evidence for why those regs are needed today, if not 25 years ago.
Bud Ward at Yale Climate Connections:
It’s not often that a scientific research paper generates the kind of media attention and scientific community buzz that resulted from a recent study on the apparent inevitability of substantial Antarctic glacial melting.
The early May research headed by lead author Eric Rignot of NASA called attention to melting now under way in Antarctica that CBS News anchor Scott Pelley reported “cannot be stopped.”
“Scientists say the situation is almost certainly unstoppable,” NBC News Anchor Brian Mitchell reported.
Rignot cautioned that the research indicates “we’ve passed the point of no return … It’s just a matter of time before these glaciers disappear to the sea.” While he indicated that the full melt, at the current pace, might not occur for two centuries, he pointed too to evidence suggesting the likelihood of an accelerating pace.
“There’s probably nothing that can be done to stop this,” Rignot said.
“This is really happening,” lead NASA lead polar ice researcher Tom Wagner said. “This weak underbelly of Antarctica is in fact starting to float out into the sea, and there’s not a lot to hold it back.”
A “This is Not Cool” video on the report by independent videographer Peter Sinclair is the first to be posted under the new Yale Climate Connections name, formerly The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media. The official transition to that newly named site is to get underway over the next few weeks, initially with a largely cosmetic rebranding, then to be followed by a substantial overhaul and a more multi-media emphasis aimed at better reaching the general public.
Note: link to the Guardian piece referenced in the video is here. Errata – I neglected to thank the European Space Agency for important video animations. Deepest apologies.
UPDATE: Per Stefan Rahmstorf, newly published study adds complexity.
“Conventional thinking based on past research is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet has been relatively stable since the last ice age, that it began to melt relatively late during the deglaciation process, and that its decline was slow and steady until it reached its present size,” said lead author Michael Weber, a scientist from the University of Cologne in Germany.
“The sediment record suggests a different pattern — one that is more episodic and suggests that parts of the ice sheet repeatedly became unstable during the last deglaciation,” Weber added.
The research also provides the first solid evidence that the Antarctic Ice Sheet contributed to what is known as meltwater pulse 1A, a period of very rapid sea level rise that began some 14,500 years ago, according to Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the study.
The largest of the eight episodic pulses outlined in the new Nature study coincides with meltwater pulse 1A.
“During that time, the sea level on a global basis rose about 50 feet in just 350 years — or about 20 times faster than sea level rise over the last century,” noted Clark, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “We don’t yet know what triggered these eight episodes or pulses, but it appears that once the melting of the ice sheet began it was amplified by physical processes.”
The researchers suspect that a feedback mechanism may have accelerated the melting, possibly by changing ocean circulation that brought warmer water to the Antarctic subsurface, according to co-author Axel Timmermann, a climate researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“This positive feedback is a perfect recipe for rapid sea level rise,” Timmermann said.
Some 9,000 years ago, the episodic pulses of melting stopped, the researchers say.
“Just as we are unsure of what triggered these eight pulses,” Clark said, “we don’t know why they stopped. Perhaps the sheet ran out of ice that was vulnerable to the physical changes that were taking place. However, our new results suggest that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is more unstable than previously considered.”