The Coldest Spot on Earth, Melting

Global warming is a fact of life that haunts society with consequences that hit hard, exponentially, but where nobody lives. It is happening hyper fast, and it’s downright scary as major ecosystems of the planet turn upside down in nasty fashion.

But none of the ecosystems has the punch of East Antarctica. Its clout is humongous with a couple hundred feet of fresh water contained in ice. When it rumbles, scientists pay attention.

In that regard, as a potential savior in the face of irrefutable global warming dangers, America is fortunate to have a powerful fighting spirit in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). She has strong instincts about the dangers of global warming. She is beating the drums for a Green New Deal, which cannot come soon enough and, in fact, may not come soon enough to save most life on the planet. Meanwhile, Republicans belittle her as foolhardy, not in the spirit of America’s capitalistic enterprise. A socialist?

But, brushing aside off-putting Republican obstructionism, the planet is endorsing AOC, as it sends clear signals of impending disaster straight out of East Antarctica. After all, no signal can be as strong as the melting of the coldest spot on the planet, which is comparable to knocking someone in the head with a ball-peen hammer as a wake up call.

(As an aside: Nicola Jones has an excellent article about East Antarctica entitled: “Polar Warning: Even Antarctica’s Coldest Region Is Starting to Melt”, YaleEnvironment360, March 28, 2019, which, in part, inspired this article.)

East Antarctica is the final frontier of global warming, but alas, overwhelmed by too much heat from ocean waters heating up way too soon. The evidence is compelling. AOC has got it right! Global warming is in full throttle, haunting 10,000 years of the Holocene Era’s Goldilocks “not too hot, not too cold” pitch perfect planet coming to an end much sooner than scientists ever realized. It’s happening that fast, and AOC knows it.

The scientific community has always maintained that East Antarctica was not a major concern. With ice up to three miles thick and temperatures on average running around -65° F, seemingly it was immune to the ravages of global warming. But, shocking new discoveries are turning heads in the scientific community.

For example, Eric Rignot (professor, University of California/Irvine and principal scientist for the Radar Science & Engineering Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory) gave a recent lecture “Sea Level Rise and What To Do About It” at The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C. on March 27th. Dr. Rignot has been responsible for groundbreaking research on the melting of glacial ice due to global warming.

Rignot opened his lecture by saying that polar ice caps are changing fast as a result of global warming, which is intriguing from a scientific viewpoint, But, for society at large, the bearer of bad news, stating:  “I don’t think you need to run for the hills, but I would walk.” Which is a bold statement with grave undertones.

Rignot’s lecture was laced with risks of rapid acceleration of glacial flow into the seas. It’s the flow of glaciers that carries the biggest risks; for example, if glacier flow overall happens to accelerate six times, it would produce 12-13 feet of sea level rise per century. Fortunately, that’s mostly in the abstract as of today, but some exceptions are now showing major cause for alarm.

East Antarctica is sending discomforting signals, and year-over-year scientists’ opinions have been sideswiped by acceleration of climate change. It happens where nobody lives, until it hits home. Then, everybody will see what scientists see at the fringes of continents and on vast uninhabited plains of tundra. Global warming’s impact is happening faster than scientists’ models can compute. Hidden danger exists all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole. It’s happening remarkably fast.

Nothing on the planet is so deeply troubling as East Antarctica melting… period! In fact, one of the fastest moving glaciers, the Totten Glacier alone contains ice equivalent to 12 feet sea level rise.

Here’s the grisly truth about the consequences of global warming: The following statistics come from an article in The National Academy of Sciences1 :

The total mass loss from Antarctica increased from 40 ± 9 Gt/y in the 11-y time period 1979–1990 to 50 ± 14 Gt/y in 1989–2000, 166 ± 18 Gt/y in 1999–2009, and 252 ± 26 Gt/y in 2009–2017, that is, by a factor 6.

That’s acceleration-plus, to wit, ten year cycles, except for 2009-17 (8 yrs.), demonstrated increasingly rapid acceleration year-over-year, as follows: 40 Gt (1979-1990), 50 Gt (1989-2000), 166 Gt (1999-2009), 252 Gt (2009-2017) sure looks like rapid acceleration. Doesn’t it?

According to Rignot, acceleration of Antarctic glaciers of 5-to-8 times already happened with the Larsen B ice shelf collapse years ago. Significantly, ice shelves hold back glacial flow like a hockey goalie, when he leaves the game the net is open. Similarly when the ice shelf collapses, glacial flow rolls ahead faster and faster without the ice shelf to stop it. In Larsen B’s case, sure enough glacial flow sped up 5-to-8 times. That’s big acceleration for a glacier. What if all of Antarctica’s glaciers follow suit?

According to Rignot, “Theoretically, if that happens continent-wide, it would raise sea levels by 13 feet per century.”

The main issue is: As the oceans have absorbed 85%-90% of planetary warming, those warmer waters are now registering heavy-duty impact in Antarctica.

Keeping in mind, it’s the first few feet of sea level rise that takes down one city after another and then another,starting with Miami Beach where global warming has already forced the city to raise streets by 2 feet.

For a photo of raised streets in Miami Beach, Google: “Miami Beach is Raising Streets by 2 Feet to Combat Rising Seas” or “Miami is Racing Against Time to Keep Up with Sea-Level Rise.”

Alas, the worst-case scenario is already in motion along shorelines around the world, including, the Trump Resort in Ireland permit application to “build a seawall because of climate change”.

  1. Eric Rignot, et al, “Four Decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet Mass Balance from 1979-2017”, January 22, 2019. []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.