Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:12:17 AM EST
For most people, climate change is an abstract concept.
Reports earlier this year that the Greenland ice cap is losing its ice cap brought a brief frenzy of concern that we had reached a tipping point in which the cataclysmic consequnces of global warming were to be revealed a la Apocolypse to the world. The facts are less dramatic but not much less disturbing. Greendland's ice cap losing much larger amounts of area during the summer melt.
In February 2006 researchers discovered glaciers in Greenland were moving much faster than before, meaning that more of its ice was entering the sea.
In 1996, Greenland was losing about 100 cubic km per year in mass from its ice sheet; by 2005, this had increased to about 220 cubic km.
A complete melt of the ice sheet would cause a global sea level rise of about 7m; but the current picture indicates that while some regions are thinning, others are apparently getting thicker.
From the front page ~ whataboutbob
While there's still much debate as to how much of the Greenland ice cap will be lost to global warming, one thing is certain. The broad trend in the region over the greater part of the last century is towards warming.
Talking about climate change solely in terms of global warming is misleading though, because there are a multitude of factors contributing to climate changes. Some like greenhouse gases will raise temperatures, others like particulate matter in the atmosphere which leads to global dimming that tend to lower global temperatures (ironically, potentially leading to a masking of the full extent of global warming.)
Remember that by itself the loss of the Greenland ice shelf would raise sea levels by 7M (roughly 21 ft), and while this is the worst case scenario in Greenland, this number does not include potential sea rises resulting from loss of sea ice in the Arctic, which is at risk of melting, leading to a loss of sea ice.
Projections suggest that the Arctic ice cap will be much smaller as sea ice is loss to warming, and as the loss of permafrost could release water into the ocean, and potentially release massive amounts of methane, itself a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere creating an runaway train effect far greater than the impact created by human impacts alone.
Such a cascade could potentially lead to further catastrophe by unleashing the massive ice sheets of the Antarctic into open seas, with disastrous consequences
Huge, pristine, dramatic, unforgiving; the Antarctic is where the biggest of all global changes could begin.
There is so much ice here that if it all melted, sea levels globally would rise hugely - perhaps as much as 80m. Say goodbye to London, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Rio... in fact, the majority of the world's major cities.
But will it happen? Scientists divide the Antarctic into three zones: the east and west Antarctic ice sheets; and the Peninsula, the tongue of land which points up towards the southern tip of South America.
"Everybody thinks that the Antarctic is shrinking due to climate change, but the reality is much more complex," says David Vaughan, a principal investigator at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK.
The full catastrophic melting of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to an 80 M (240 ft) sea rise isn't likely, but the complexities of climate change make even the best projections meaningless, but the point is that things are going to change, and that the unforseen like massive methane emissions from permafrost melts could make what currently seems highly unlikely plausible.
And again change is certain, one of the more extreme examples of this is the in the near future the mythical Northwest Passage will be ice free, and subject of contention between the US and Canada.
As the ice melts, it is going to be possible to send products along Murmansk to Monterrey route.
Hugging the western side of Hudson Bay, 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg, Churchill is the continent's only subarctic industrial port. As such, it's the most efficient point from which to ship grain or goods produced midcontinent to northern Europe or to Russia. Via Churchill the route from Edmonton to Liverpool is almost 1,000 miles shorter than through Montreal. With fuel costs rising, the potential savings are compelling. Oceangoing ships too big for the St. Lawrence Seaway can get in and out of Hudson Bay (ice permitting, of course).
Sitting in this chilly catbird seat is Denver railroad magnate and real estate developer Patrick Broe, 57. In 1997 his company, Omnitrax, the largest privately owned operator of short-line railroads in North America, bought the port for $7 from a Canadian government happy to unload a moneyloser. As part of the deal Omnitrax also paid $11 million to the Canadian National railroad for an 800-mile stretch that links Churchill to Canada's grain belt.
Negotiations between Omnitrax and the Canadian and Russian governments have been aimed at creating an "Arctic Bridge," a trade corridor from Murmansk to Churchill, then straight down the middle of North America to Monterrey, Mexico. "Murmansk-to-Monterrey" is the hot phrase on cold lips in Moscow and in Manitoba.
In the new world created by the shrinking of the Arctic ice shelf, the fortunes to be made from Arctic trade are going to create the condition for divise conflicts. Between the US and Canada over control of the Northwest Passage, and between Canada and Denmark over the resources in the area betwen Greenland and the Canadian
But the same rising waters that open the Northwest Passage threaten to inundate heavily populated costal regions throughout the planet. The problem with global issues like the rise in sea levels brought on by global warming is that is often very hard to illustrate how this will impact us personally.
British blog Firetree.net has created a compelling tool to demonstrate how the global issue of global warming can get very personal. As sea levels rise, it might just be your town, your house that descends below the waves. The next time that you think that reducing Carbon footprint will destroy your way of life, consider the alternative, with the wave lapping at your doorstep, and the sad knowledge that home is going to be gone forever as the waters rise.
With only a 1 M sea level rise much of New Orleans will lie beneath the waves, and what remains stands without the protective ring of bayous to guard against Hurricanes. In Europe, Venice and Amsterdam lie beneath the sea. In Asia, Saigon (Ho Chi Mihn City), and the Mekong Delta fall one last time to the wave. In Africa, Alexndria is gone.
At a full 7 M rise, the Okechobee empty directly into the sea, and the urban area of Miama-South Florida is a narrow spit of land from Palm Beach south. In Washington, DC the sea extend past Lafayette Park onto the front lawn of the White House. In Europe, London's East End is underwater, as is Hamburg. In Asia, much of Southern Iraq is underwater as is much of Southern Bangladesh and Shanghai.
At 14 M .... the Netherlands is reduced to but a quarter of its former self. All of Florida's coastal cities are under water, and Mobile bay extends north nearly to Jackson.
Remember that that Greeland ice shelf alone could raise the sea 7 M if it melts. If there's a catastrophics cascade effect methane emissions as the permafrost in Siberia melts, we could see the Antartic lose it's western ice shelf, and sea level rises above 14 M. This is no certainty that all this will occur, and the total collapse of the Western Antarctic ice shelf raising sea levels by 5 M is estimated at only 5% or 1 in 20. Better than Russian Roulette, but not much. And the sum of glacial melting may be much worse than its parts.
I want to encourage you all to find your own home and see how how the ocean would have to rise to put you under water.