Antarctic ice melt has long been a concern associated with climate change and global warming. We’ve all heard the cautionary tale: temperatures will rise, ice shelves will melt, sea levels rise, and cities like Venice (which is already sinking) are soon underwater.
Recently a team of scientists led by Tore Hatterman of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) set out to better understand the scope of this problem by measuring melting on the underside of one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves. To conduct the research, the scientists drilled holes through the Fimbul Ice Shelf, the sixth largest of 43 ice shelves on Antarctica’s perimeter, to study how water circulation patterns change with the seasons. The team then gathered data on salinity, temperature, and depth from a group of elephant seals equipped with sensors. Surprisingly, this study provides us with the first direct and observational evidence that ice shelves melt from underneath (due mostly to the facts that relatively warm surface waters are circulated beneath the ice shelf and deeper water has a lower freezing temperature). Previous studies were based solely on computer models with no direct data. Can you believe that?!
So, is all the hype over melting ice caps true? Well, the study did show that water temperatures were significantly lower than those predicted by computer models, and Hatterman states that the ice shelf is melting at a much slower rate than was previously thought. He postulated that the shelf might not currently be losing mass at all because snowfall (and subsequent ice build up) has kept up with the rate of mass loss. But, he didn’t indicate any level of certainty on that last theory. Hatterman also points out that the study provides direct data that can and should be included in the next generation of computer models.
I’m glad that Antarctic ice isn’t melting as quickly as we had previously thought. BUT, I sincerely hope that we do not take this news as a sign that climate change is not real and is not happening quickly. We are still experiencing record high temperatures, increased numbers of extreme weather events, and serious public health dangers. It is imperative that we still press on in developing and implementing alternative energy sources and policies that protect both human health and the environment.