Photo by Sophia Simoes on Unsplash
Photo by Sophia Simoes on Unsplash

Antarctica’s Dicey Summer

By Robert Hunziker

The past couple of years in Antarctica have been a rough and tumble affair of erratic climate change with record-high temperatures and totally unexpected ice shelf collapse. The continent is starting to reflect the impact of a warming planet that’s just too hot for icy comfort. So, what surprises will this year’s summer season bring?

At the tail end of Antarctica’s 2022 summer, during the start of autumn/March ‘22, temperatures along the eastern coast spiked 70°F (39°C) above normal. Scientists called it “unthinkable.” According to Edward Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington: “We found that temperature anomaly, the 39-degree temperature anomaly, that’s the largest anywhere ever measured anywhere in the world.” (Source: Scientists Found the Most Intense Heat Wave Ever Recorded – in Antarctica, The Washington Post, September 24, 2023)

Within weeks, the unthinkable happened in East Antarctica. Conger Ice Shelf suddenly collapsed. According to NASA: “It is relatively common for ice shelves in Antarctica to spawn icebergs, it is less common for an ice shelf to completely disintegrate. The collapse has reshaped a part of the Antarctic landscape where coastal glacial ice was once thought to be stable. The change happened fast… All of the previous collapses have taken place in West Antarctica, not East Antarctica, which until recently has been thought of as relatively stable. This is something like a dress rehearsal for what we could expect from other, more massive ice shelves if they continue to melt and destabilize. Then we’ll really be past the turnaround point in terms of slowing sea level rise” (Source: Ice Shelf Collapse in East Antarctica, Earth Observatory, NASA, March 29, 2022).

Antarctica’s upcoming summer of 2023 with sunshine 24/7 from October thru February will bring a new season that is especially notable considering the fact that global warming strutted its stuff during Antarctica’s dark winter months of March-to-October 2023, setting new high temperature records and especially true of global warming’s impact on abnormally high ocean temperatures, which serve to undercut and weaken ice shelves: “The Southern Ocean has warmed substantially.” (Source: Southern Ocean Warming and its Climatic Impacts, Science Bulletin, Vol. 68, Issue 9, May 15, 2023) thus creating higher risks for 90% of the world’s surface water that’s impermanently locked in ice.

Already, strange things may be happening. For example, according to a non-authoritative source, the crucial Pinning Point 5 is gone at Thwaites/Pine Island glaciers. That source claims this risks an acceleration of glacial flow and termed the occurrence ‘”an emergency,” but that has not been verified by other sources. It should be noted that the source has a reasonable track record of following Antarctic events that later make news. (Source: Pinning Point Five Collapsed, the Sea Ice Barrier Buttressing Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier, Daily Kos, Sept. 29, 2023)

Along the way, the erratic behavior of the climate system over the past 18-24 months is of major concern, as global heat has enveloped the planet, setting records from the peaks of the tallest mountains in the Alps to the deepest interior of Antarctica, almost as if the climate system is programmed to keep turning up the thermostat, regardless of location, regardless of time, whatever season. Of course, this is as threatening to survival of Antarctica’s icy stature as it is fatal to the world’s coastal cities.

Polar Amplification in Antarctica

Times are changing fast as Antarctica, like its cousin up north, heats up much faster than the rest of the planet. According to Dr. Mathieu Casado, Laboratoire des Science du Climat et de l’Environment/France, there is direct evidence that Antarctica is undergoing “polar amplification.” (Source: Ice Cores Reveal Antarctica is Warming Twice as Fast as Global Average, CarbonBrief, September 13, 2023)

In plain English, it’s heating up much faster than the overall planet, which is horribly threatening news. In fact, the study found the continent is heating up per decade as much as 50% over climate models. This is a shocker to climate scientists and should be of serious concern to any sane/grounded person. It speaks to the necessity of taking immediate action by nation/states to convert energy systems to renewables.

According to the Casado study, Antarctica’s warming “is almost twice as strong as global warming estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … also 20-50% larger than the estimates from the climate models used to produce the IPCC reports -even in East Antarctica, which was believed to be largely unaffected by climate change so far.” Accordingly, the study anticipates “dire consequences for the low-lying lands… further warning of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, even in one of the most remote parts of the world.”

Therefore, sea level rise as currently anticipated by consensus opinion is very likely too low in terms of potential and resultant coastal impacts, including calculations used by the IPCC, underestimating global warming’s impact on Antarctica by a wide margin.

It is instructive to look at the latest IPCC report, which is a synthesis d/d March 2023 that integrates the findings from its Sixth Assessment Report Cycle, stating: “Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying… There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all. Choices made this current decade will impact us now and for thousands of years.” (Source: IPCC Climate Change Reports: Why They Matter to Everyone on the Planet, National Resources Defense Council, April 14, 2023) Thus, the IPCC puts the decade of the 2020s on a pedestal of achievement that must be achieved, or it’ll crash.

According to the IPCC’s Best-Case analysis: “If the world bands together to slash emissions immediately, the world can avoid the most catastrophic version of the climate crisis, but it will continue to warm until at least mid-century, due to the impact of past emissions.” For example, some changes that are already set in motion, like sea level rise, are irreversible over many decades. Adaptation is necessary.

In point of fact, the Casado study adds a haunting new perspective to the 6th Assessment Report, i.e., Antarctica’s warming is almost twice as strong as stated by the IPCC. In the final analysis, the study means the IPCC vastly understates the impact of global warming on Antarctica, which can only mean that low-lying coastal cities should build massive sea walls.

After all, according to the Miami Herald regarding southern Florida, within the next couple of years:  Some Keys Roads Will Flood by 2025 Due to Sea Rise, Fixing Them Could Cost $750 Million, Miami Herald, Oct. 21, 2021.

And this: “Several parts of coastal North Carolina could fall victim to extreme flooding in the very near future… several portions of North Carolina can be seen below the annual flood level by the year 2030,” Breaking News, Fox8/North Carolina, July 21, 2023.

Indeed, mainstream news outlets like the Miami Herald and Fox8 News are ringing the bell at the town square, warning about sea level rise flooding portions of Florida and North Carolina… real soon!

And this: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gulf Coast region saw more than a 1,000% increase in the number of high tide flooding days in 2020 over the past two decades. (Source: Gulf Coast Sea Level Rising at ‘Unprecedented’ Rate, Recent Studies Find, Houston Public Media, April 12, 2023)

In turn, all above brings to surface questions about motives of people who denigrate, attack, and belittle the climate change issue, human-caused global warming, and renewables thereby serving to block or interfere with nationwide efforts to do something constructive. Their line of thinking is extraordinarily dangerous to the country in the face of actual flooding events along America’s coasts that are locked loaded and ready for more action very soon. Mainstream news has clearly identified impending danger.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sea level rise over the next 30 years will equal the past 100 years. “In the United States, the most vulnerable populations live on the East and Gulf Coasts… The acceleration of sea level rise along these coasts is ‘unprecedented in at least 120 years.” (Source: Acceleration of U.S. Southeast and Gulf Coast Sea-Level Rise Amplified by Internal Climate Variability, Nature Communications, April 2023)

The Antarctic summer of 2023 is on shaky footing as global heat is on the march worldwide like never before, and it knows no boundaries from south to north, every ecosystem everywhere is fair game. Of course, a major concern is rapid acceleration of ice shelf disintegration, especially fragile West Antarctica where Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier are already the fastest changing and most unstable glaciers in the world. Incidentally, Thwaites has a nickname: The Doomsday Glacier.

Robert Hunziker
This article was originally published on October 6, 2023 © Counterpunch
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected].

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