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NASA Study Shows Antarctic Ice Sheet Shrinking 407

Posted by Zonk
from the that's-polar-bear-country dept.
deman1985 writes "A recently released NASA study has shown that the Antarctic ice shelf is shrinking at an alarming rate of 36 cubic miles per year. The study, run from April 2002 to August 2005, indicates that the melting accounted for 1.2 millimeters of global sea level rise for the period. From the article: 'That is about how much water the United States consumes in three months and represents a change of about 0.4 millimeter (0.01575 inch) per year to global sea level rise, the study concluded. The study claims the majority of the melting to have occurred in the West Antarctic ice sheet."
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NASA Study Shows Antarctic Ice Sheet Shrinking

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:56PM (#14847951)
    If you believe in global warming the terrorists win
  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:58PM (#14847957)
    Or a meter every 2500 years?

    Wow.... better shore up the levees, Waterworld is coming soon!
    • by AoT (107216) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:01PM (#14847973) Homepage Journal
      That would be 0.4mm a year on top of the other sources of rising sea water.

      And assuming a constant, non-accelerating rate unlike what is currently being observed in greenland.

      But good job trying to minimaze the problems we face today.
      • by delong (125205)
        But good job trying to minimaze the problems we face today

        Problems facing today being the operative phrase. All the study shows is a 3 year trend. Which they extrapolated. 3 years is not a data set to base public policy OR firm geo science upon.
        • . 3 years is not a data set to base public policy OR firm geo science upon.

          You base public policy on whatever data you have available. When you have large unknowns, you do a risk assessment and then decide if that possibility of destroying the planet is important to you or not.
          • by delong (125205) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @02:37AM (#14848743)
            When you have large unknowns, you do a risk assessment and then decide if that possibility of destroying the planet is important to you or not

            Part of that analysis is the probability that destroying the planet is even a likelihood. That burden is on those who assert it is. Anyone that would base exceedingly costly and disruptive policy on 3 years of data on a subject (literally) with geologic timescales is foolish in the extreme. And, I would argue, not a very serious person.
        • by golodh (893453) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @08:52AM (#14849422)
          Problems facing today being the operative phrase. All the study shows is a 3 year trend. Which they extrapolated. 3 years is not a data set to base public policy OR firm geo science upon.

          Considering that Earth's climate is something with a huge momentum, changing its course later on may or may not be an option. That's why ignoring even the _possibility_ of irreversable and catastrophic climate change risks missing a crucial window of opportunity, or even a less-crucial window of low-cost opportunity. Now is the time when we have a good chance of getting by with relatively painless, limited, and non-intrusive measures, provided we are prepared to make them _structural_.

          And low-cost, low-tech opportunities for savings abound. Just think of home insulation, use of solar energy to reduce the energy needed for airconditioning and general climate control in buildings, use of heat pumps to lower energy requirements of climate control, and (heaven forbid) energy efficient cars etc..

          But even those are often not economically viable because the price of energy is so low in the US. To be fair, why bother with complicated gizmos when you can just have this big cheap wasteful-but-effective-and-reliable thingy installed that will set you back only about 100$ a year in energy bills? Unfortunately our situation is known as a prisoners dilemma. If any business takes the time and effort to conserve energy, it can't spend that time and effort on its core business, and any resulting cost increase (or failure to drive costs down) in its products will be punished by the market.

          This is why governments were invented. Tho break this deadlock of short-term interests and impose measures on _everyone at the same time_ that make the long-term needs felt. And yes, the primary instruments are often know as laws and regulations, and and the only ways of internalising external cost (as it is called) are known as taxes or levies. Nobody likes them (they hurt), but sometimes you have to have them. I personally think this is one of those occasions.

          Taking the risk of missing either a "hard" window of opportunity or a "soft" one, purely for contraryness, short-term financial reasons, inertia, convenience and short-term political gain is both irresponsible and irrational.

          It's telling of the American mindset that decades of energy-related research have been marginalised, downsized, cost-cut and generally ridiculed as idealistic but impractical, and certainly unneeded.

          It's equally telling that the prospect of irreversible catastrophic global climate change is dismissed while the certain prospect of price hikes for gasoline (to say the levels of Europe) and *gasp* dependence on foreign powers is enough to galvanise an administration into a (fairly marginal) energy research programme.

          Well ... at least it got their attention now ... in a way.

      • Re:0.4mm a year.... (Score:3, Informative)

        by defile (1059)

        "The 1841 sea level benchmark (centre) on the `Isle of the Dead', Tasmania. According to Antarctic explorer, Capt. Sir James Clark Ross, it marked mean sea level in 1841. Photo taken at low tide 20 Jan 2004. Mark is 50 cm across; tidal range is less than a metre."

        See photos [john-daly.com] to go with caption.

    • by Voltageaav (798022)
      If it continues getting warmer, that's IF, then the ice will begin to melt at a higher rate and we could all be swimming in a hundred years. I don't think it'll happen, but it's not quite as simple as you make it sound. Climate does change, it has been for millions of years. It's not the hottest it's ever been on Earth, it very well may get hotter, but it's not going to be the end of the world.
      • Stop Whining (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:19PM (#14848049) Homepage Journal
        It is going to continue getting hotter. Everything making it hotter is continuing to operate, nothing is stopping. The last 5 years are among the hottest in human history. The ice is melting faster than before, faster than predicted. The melt accelerates further melting. When the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Greenland have melted, the seas will be 35' higher, which will be the end of the world for the majority of humans, who live near the coasts or will be invaded by the displaced people fleeing the rising seas.

        You're insisting on denial of the catastrophe because you made up your mind before the situation was so obviously bad. You were wrong then, you're wrong now. The least you could do is drop the denial, because that's the main obstacle to people working together to lower the risk that the end of the world is coming.

        Regardless of whether you want to admit that humans caused the warming, the fact is that our actions could slow or halt it before it destroys us.
        • We need this ice to melt so we can have more water for the 6.5 billion people on the planet.

          All kidding aside, so what. The Earth evolves with us or without us. If we kill ourselves then we probably deserve it. The Earth won't care in the least bit. There will be a balance somewhere as the law of nature dictates it as much as the law of nature dictates that an apple will fall from a tree if it's stem breaks.

          I care more about economic stability (not that I don't care about this but any change is beyond m
        • Re:Stop Whining (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PapayaSF (721268)
          When the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Greenland have melted, the seas will be 35' higher, which will be the end of the world for the majority of humans

          Sorry, I want to see some evidence to support this figure. It sounds way to large to me. As Isaac Asimov once pointed out, sloppy calculations are too often used regarding sea level increases. You can't just assume all the non-floating ice in the world melts to form X cubic meters of water, which ends up on top of the Y area of the oceans, and thus increa
          • knock yourself out (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            here you go, i thought this was a nerds site not one for lazy fskers, you overweight by any chance ?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_change [wikipedia.org]

            or perhaps a middle school project would explain it better
            http://pumas.jpl.nasa.gov/PDF_Examples/02_10_97_1. pdf [nasa.gov]

          • Re:Stop Whining (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @01:24AM (#14848558) Homepage Journal
            According to the USGS [usgs.gov], even if the only ice to melt is Greenland's and the West Antarctic sheet, that's 14.61m. You can do the math, but 48 feet is over 37% larger than the 35' estimate I gave.

            The angle of the shallows of the seas are close enough to vertical, compared to their huge area, that practically none of the rise is absorbed by them. In fact, the higher tides and more frequent inundating storms from the warmer, wetter, more chaotic atmosphere will see the sea's area increase even more, as the water gets spread around kineticly.

            The sad truth is that there is very little mitigation of the damage from all that land ice melting into the seas. Another factor is the collapse of the ThermoHaline Current that keeps Europe inhabitable, due to dilution by fresh water. We're looking at Florida below its narrowest width sinking, along with all but mountaintops in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Manhattan Island would be partly below the combined Hudson, Harlem and East rivers, if we weren't planning to dam it at the harbor (inside secret).

            I know it's so scary a prospect, especially with worse news every few months, that the mind reels. But that doesn't justify the rush to deny it any way that seems convenient. We're staring into the abyss, and it looks like us. We can probably survive, even thrive, if we come to grips now, before it's too late. Help turn the ship around.

        • by Reverend528 (585549) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @01:12AM (#14848517) Homepage
          the seas will be 35' higher, which will be the end of the world for the majority of humans

          Sure it will suck for companies that insure beach-front properties, but for those of us living in the right locations, global warming will only move us closer to the beach and increase our property value.

      • by Ferretman (224859)
        Very well said, Voltageaav. I think that's where too many people who don't understand the history of the planet tend to fall short--they somehow think that this climate is a "perfect stasis" that's been this way forever.

        Put bluntly, we've been lucky....we hit a relatively calm spell at just the right time in our history and thus moved from a Stone Age society to a Technological Age society. A lot of other planets probably aren't so fortunate.

        Ferretman
        From the High, Snowy Mountains of Colorado
    • Re:0.4mm a year.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Coryoth (254751) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:19PM (#14848045) Homepage Journal
      Or a meter every 2500 years? Wow.... better shore up the levees, Waterworld is coming soon!

      0.4mm per year just from the Antarctic ice sheet, and 2500 years for a meter presuming a constant rate. On the other hand there are other factors at play such as the Greenland glaciers, which are accelerating their slide into the sea [realclimate.org], which means it might be worth considering the possibility of acceleration of the loss of Antarctic ice. There's also thermal expansion as another factor causing sea levels to rise.

      It's also worth noting that, in the grand scheme of things, 0.4mm per year is quite a lot: sea level change over the last 3000 years averages to about 0.1mm to 0.2mm per year.

      Is this a clear indication of catastrophic distaster? Far from it. Nor is it the least bit implicit of any sort of bizarre Waterworld scenario. However, even a 1 meter change in sea will have signficant impact given the large numbers of cities very close to sea level - even a small rise makes them far more susceptible to flooding from, say, storm swell or similar. In practice even a small change is going to displace an awful lot of people, costing an awful lot of money, and having a significant economic impact. It may not be a disaster of biblical proportions, but it is most definitely something to be concerned about and to keep an eye on.

      Jedidiah.
  • That's okay (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:01PM (#14847971)
    West Antarctica was pretty dull anyway. At least East Antarctica is safe.
  • YES! Finally I'll be able to buy some property in Arizona desert and make millions redeveloping it after the ocean rolls in...

    Any day now....

    2500 years? a Meter?

    Hmmm... Anyone want to by a condo with ocean view in Arizona... Not quite finished...

    Anyone?

    PFFFT!

    PS.. Remember MARS icecaps are melting also... Thats probibly my fault too...

    Why can't people understand CYCLES? and "GET OVER IT"...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:36PM (#14848113)
      "Why can't people understand CYCLES? and 'GET OVER IT'..."

      Because there is no conclusive evidence that this is only part of a cylce.

      As an evironmental scientist, my "gut" feeling is that this IS a part of cycle but being exacerbated by human factors. Look at the ice core and other geologic indicators: none of the planetary heating/cooling cycles ever recorded occcured with anything approaching this intensity. They were gradual, over thousands of years. We've seen millenia worth of warming in the last ~120 yrs.

      Regression analyses of almost any factors you care to name show a near-perfect correlation with the humanity's industrial emissions. Cooked up examples in introductory statistics textbooks aren't any better.

      Blindly chalking everything up to cycles is dangerous - what if that's incorrect? What do we lose by reducing hazardous emissions and pursuing alternative energies? Nothing, that's what. We potentially save the planet and reduce the corrupting inlfuences of the petrochemical industry. And if it ultimately has no effect on the environment, that's a price I'm willing to pay. What you suggest is a gamble that humanity cannot afford to make.

    • Why you should worry about cycles. This is quoted from the Ocean and Climate Change Institutes' article on "The Day After Tomorrow".

      "It is worth keeping in mind that an "abrupt" climate change, which may take place over a decade, is abrupt from a geologic perspective, in which many phenomena take place on the time scales of hundreds of thousands to millions of years."

      To put it mildly, if you looked up and saw a car might hit you at 1MPH then you might be a little worried but not really all that concerned.

  • Disaster! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:05PM (#14847988) Homepage
    So when do the volcanoes under the ice erupt and slough the whole icecap off into the sea so that the Martians can revolt?
  • Alarming Rate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chadpnet (627771)
    How can the rate of an observation be "alarming" if it has only recorded 3 of 6,000,000,000 years of existense?
    • Re:Alarming Rate (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Coryoth (254751) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:50PM (#14848172) Homepage Journal
      How can the rate of an observation be "alarming" if it has only recorded 3 of 6,000,000,000 years of existense?

      As far as we are concerned all of earth's history is unimportant - what matters is how it compares to human history, because while sea levels might have been rising faster some time in the Jurassic it wasn't anything humans ever had to cope with. From the planet's point of view it might indeed be trivial, but from the point of view of humans in the here and now who have to adapt to the changes it may well be significant.

      So, how does 0.4mm per year compare to human history? The last 3000 years have (according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]) seen sea levels rise at an average rate of 0.1mm to 0.2mm per year. More recent data shows a rate of around 1mm to 2mm per year since 1850, and 3mm per year using satellite altimetry since 1992. On that sort of scale 0.4mm per year does represent a significant amount. Given the previous lack of certainty as to whether the Antarctic was losing or gaining ice with worst case estimates of about 0.2mm per year worth of ice being lost it is indeed alarming.

      Sure, it isn't the end of the world, but then nobody with any sense was worried about that. The concern is the vast economic impact that could result from the forced relocation or rebuilding efforts caused by greater risks of flooding for the many many urban areas close to sea level. It may not be an epic disaster, but it could well be very expensive, so it's worth knowing about it so we can be forewarned and take preventative action now.

      Jedidiah.
    • How can the rate of an observation be "alarming" if it has only recorded 3 of 6,000,000,000 years of existense?

      1. The polar ice caps have not been there for billions of years.
      2. If there's ice there now, it's because it ACCUMULATED in the past, now it's retreating.
      3. Plaeoclimatologists have been digging up ice layers to study the aformentioned accumulations, which is a record of its very existance. Like rings in a tree, except vertical, and cold.
    • by hellfire (86129)
      It's not alarming that it's shrinking by that rate compared to any historical values we have.

      It's alarming because "oh shit, that's a lot of ice making the sea levels rise."
    • If something is "only" occurring in 3 of 6,000,000,000 cases it can still be alarming. The very fact that our current state is so unique in the history of the world is the essence of it being alarming. Just think of if there were 6,000,000,000 viruses and 5,999,999,997 were not harmful to humans but the other 3 mutated and became so deadly as to kill off the whole human race. Those statistically insignificant 3 are still alarmingly important because of their contribution to the outcome.
  • by Saeger (456549) <`farrellj' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:25PM (#14848068) Homepage
    "Bunkers! Underground bunkers! Get yer *waterproof* bunkers right here! Ensure the survival of your genetic line for only $85,000*!

    Amenties include:
    • A pot to piss in!
    • A pot to cook with (same pot)
    • NASA certified air/water recycling system
    • 30yr supply of 30yr shelf-life freeze-dried dogfood!
    • Wikipedia SQLdump (laptop and electricity sold separately)
    • The collected works of Rush Limbaugh on tape!
    • 8 Boredom-brand cyanide pills

    *Refurbished Y2K model# 1D10T"
  • PANIC! PANIC!

    I say nuke the poles, lets get this done now, not 2500 years in the future!
  • 1.2 millimeters?! Time to head for high ground!
  • For those of you following NASA, there has been a flood of earth science recently.

    It's interesting stuff, hopefully more data will continue to help refine and quanitify our understanding of how the earth works.

    And guide developers to their next beachfront property :) No joke, but some property like sea terminals are going to get more valuable if things warm up.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    After meeting the united nations has issued a resolution that will force everyone to drink more water. Tony Blair in a press conferance earlier today stated: "... only 16.5 gallons of water a day is all we each need to chip in to keep the ocean levels from rising..." The scientific community has aplauded this idea and water distribution stations are planning to be setup around the world within the next few months.
  • by wilburdg (178573) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:31AM (#14848338)
    You should see what Bush had to say [onegoodmove.org] about the global warming news.
  • by Quirk (36086) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:33AM (#14848348) Homepage Journal
    The /. mindset seems to be blind to the reality of the biosphere as a system. It's an ecosystem, thus when a major shift in one parameter is put in play the likelihood is that there will be other parameter shifts.

    It may be that we will come out in a world better suited to our soon to be 9 billion human population. It may be that much of the planet will become uninhabitable or no longer arable. What is evident is that the majority of people who bother to consider the possible outcomes seem to think there will be one diasterous consequence and that somehow we'll all pull together to get things under control. It's as if something like Katrina is envisioned, but it's likely to be very complex and detrimental on a number of fronts. The truth is our ability to maintain our existing infrastructure is very limited.

    A washed out bridge can bring traffic to a halt on a major highway. Imagine a warming world with increased sever storms, washing out roadways and rail lines, while bringing down power lines. Ice storms could bring the whole eastern seaboard to it's knees because the existing powerlines aren't able to carry the weight of the ice.

    The emergency contingency plans and resources in place were slow and sloppy in reacting to Katrina. Play whatif with three or four hurricanes or sever storms pounding on the Gulf of Mexico and turning to ice storms in the north.

    In the late 90's the American scientist Edmund Wilson postulated that for the existing world population to enjoy the life style of America today on a percapita basis would require the resources of another 5 worlds. Recently a conservative thinktank worked out that for China and India to live at the level of America today we would require the resources of another two worlds. So we have a world awash in weapons with a population ontrack to hit 9 billion in a biosphere showing signs of undergoing radical systemic change.

    You should ridicule the alarmists. You should make jokes because it looks like it's going to get ugly fast.

    • we use most of resources once and throw them in the trash. There's a heck of alot of room for improvement, maybe soon we even grow/farm most of what we need, whether housing, vehicles, fuel, equipment. China and India will have much more motivation than the west ever did to go in this direction with their booming R&D. So don't go all doom and gloom just yet.
  • by latent_biologist (827344) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:52AM (#14848430)
    "from the that's-polar-bear-country dept."

    Actually, Polar bears are Arctic critters -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_bears [wikipedia.org]
  • I guess we should get a team to the Antarctic post haste so we can keep The Thing from thawing out and taking over the world 27,000 hrs from first contact. And while were at it we need to do something about that big blob we air lifted and dropped off there back in the 50's.
  • by Mulletproof (513805) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @09:19AM (#14849499) Homepage Journal
    Many people overlook the benefit of engineering giant, semi-intelligent organic robots piloted angst ridden teens to combat the ethereal extra dimensional presence that is undoubtably melting the Antartic AS WE SPEAK, and will undoubtably attack mankind in the near future. I propose this project be located somewhere in Japan, as they are the obvious leaders in not only organic giant robotic technology, but fitting teen girls into skin tight piloting suits.

"Never ascribe to malice that which is caused by greed and ignorance." -- Cal Keegan

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