Home Adaptation Polar Ice: A Current Update

Polar Ice: A Current Update


Sea ice is getting lonely

See the red line in the introductory graph above? It's a lonely line. It's different from all of its colleagues. Scientists that attempt to analyze this stuff will tell you that the fact that it's lonely and ostracized is a really big deal. Politicians whose monetary support comes from industrial interests that they depend on in order to keep their jobs will tell you that it's no big deal.

Who to believe? Your choice.

Here are some things to consider when making your choice.

What the seas are telling us

Temperatures in the Arctic are extremely high--as much as 20 degrees Celsius above normal. This includes the unheard-of circumstance of Svalbard Norway having an average winter temperature above freezing. That's never happened before.

As a result, there is less sea ice in the world right now than ever before. And that will not be without consequences: Scientists warn us of Arctic melting being felt as far away as the Indian Ocean.

That's the Arctic. At the other end of the world in the Antarctic, two huge ice shelves are showing signs of calving off enormous ice floes. One, the Pine Island Glacier of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, calved off a section in 2015 using a process scientists had never seen before--rotting from the inside out or bottom up, hiding the process from view until the very end.

The Larson C Ice Shelf, in comparison, has announced its intentions for all to see. Recent aerial missions have provided stunning photographs and excellent narratives-- available here and here--that well illustrate the magnitude of the situation.

In short, when this crack finishes its journey across the shelf, an ice floe the size of Delaware will drift off to sea.

So what to do?

First, let's get real. We know that Arctic sea ice will pretty much be gone soon if current trends hold. That will set into motion feedback loops that will increase the rate of warming. We know that the ice shelves of Antarctica--and not to be left out, those of Greenland--will continue to calve off, releasing the glaciers behind them to flow ever faster into the sea. When that happens, sea level rise won't be measured in tenths of inches--it will be measure in tens of feet.

In EDM terms:

Planning: Yes, we should do some of that. The time for denial is long past.

Preparation: That would also be nice. What form that would take would depend on where you sit on this marvelously complex Spaceship Earth. The answer for Chicago is different than the answer for Miami. But make no mistake, all cities and all communities everywhere need to prepare, because no place will be immune from the impacts.

Mitigation: There's only one mitigation strategy, and it's not very popular. We need to immediately switch from fossil fuels to renewables in the development of the energy needed to power our civilization and future growth. That alone has the potential of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius--nothing else has any potential of doing that.

Response: We love response! It's dynamic and sexy. But response to ice breakup and sea level rise won't be either. It will be slow and tedious--not the stuff of which heroes are made. There won't be any Marvel Universe superheroes holding back the glaciers. We will respond by building seawalls and elevating our properties--literally as exciting as watching paint dry.

Adaptation: Run for higher ground. That's about it. Relocate cities. Relocate lives. Relocate economies. Find somewhere with a temperate climate, a good water source, and an economy that will support your family, and go there. That's what North African and Middle Eastern refugees are doing now. They could well be a harbinger of what we will become.

Much to think about. Best wishes and heartfelt blessings for your 2017. Make it your best EDM year ever. Health and prosperity to you and yours.

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Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.