Ice is melting in the Antarctic

In Europe Spring has arrived and summer is on its way, as the days get longer. We will soon be drinking cold drinks with ice cubes, to cool the drink. If you watch an ice cube melting in the drink it seems to stay unaffected by heat for longer than you would expect. Then, almost suddenly, the ice is all gone (unless you drink all the drink), and what was solid cubes of ice are liquid.

The greater the surface area, the faster the ice cube melts, because heat flows from a cold place to a warmer place. Cold does not flow to a warmer place, at least not on this planet according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Summer has ended in the southern hemisphere. Daylight now lasts less than twelve hours for most of the summer hemisphere and the South Pole will be shrouded in darkness for six months. The lack of light means that Antarctica will be getting colder. The way in which heat works in our seasons is that it builds up through the summer, so that its cumulative effect is most noticed at the end of the summer. As the Northern Hemisphere warms up, the Southern hemisphere cools. At these changes of seasons the extent of ice at the poles of our planet can tell us a great deal about the way in which the climate of the planet is changing.

In October we get the latest data about the extent of Arctic ice. It is measured at the end of the summer and usually the measurements show the ice getting less extensive, year by year. In the southern hemisphere people are turning their attention to the Antarctic ice.

Most opinions hold that the Antarctic has been less affected by climate change than the Northern hemisphere. Certainly, the effect of global warming on the Arctic is more noticeable than it is upon the Antarctic. The Arctic region has no underlying land mass. When ice melts it turns into water, so it can be easily seen and measured.

At the opposite end of the world it can be harder to understand what is going on. The Antarctic has a large continental land mass, which is covered by ice. That makes the effect of melting ice less noticeable than it is in the Arctic and the land mass also helps keep the ice as ice, even if the temperatures may rise.

Those that believe that Antarctica showed no evidence of ice melting caused by climate change (there have been some who have posted comments to that effect on this blog) will be as disappointed as me to learn that Antarctic ice is now melting and this has been shown by evidence revealed at the end of the Antarctic period of daylight. There is a threat to the Wilkins Ice Shelf.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is held in place by an ice bridge. That ice bridge is melting away and icebergs formed from ice locked away in Antarctica for at least decades are now floating into the open sea. We do not have any observations before 1930, so I cannot claim that this is a new phenomenon, but it seems likely to be new.

The Wilkins ice shelf points like a finger out into the ocean; since the 1990s the Wilkins ice shelf has been in a state of retreat.

There will be many more icebergs in the Antarctic Ocean as a result of the ice melt, and the salinity of the ocean will be slightly lowered, and this may cause an effect upon ocean currents. That, however, is conjecture.

What we do know is that when ice shelves break up the land ice immediately behind the ice shelf starts marching towards the sea much more quickly, because it has no volume of ice to hold it back.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have never taken polar ice melt into account in their calculations of global warming, simply because there was not enough data and evidence to support the hypothesis that the ice was melting. That will change in future reports; we now have evidence from both poles that ice is melting. What effect this will have upon the planet and its climate remains to be seen.

One Response

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