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Is the West Antarctic ice sheet suddenly melting?

West Antarctic Ice sheetIce melt in West Antarctica is unstoppable!” (CNN)

Ice Sheet’s Collapse Triggers Sea Level Warning” (NBC)

Glacial Region’s Melt Past ‘Point of No Return,’ NASA Says” (Bloomberg)

Nothing can stop retreat of West Antarctica ice sheets!” (BBC)

Are you scared yet?!

Certainly the mainstream media is playing it up! Although I had some questions on this matter, I thought I’d start by going to read NASA’s press release on the matter – after all, the source of this hysteria seems to be NASA…

Turns out, NASA felt about it the same way as me. Which is to say, the above sensational headlines are at best, misleading, and at worse, outright lying.

Now, I don’t for one minute doubt that there is some melting going in West Antarctica, and it might be worse than we think. But when I began reading the headlines above, my first thought was, so? The West Antarctic ice sheet began its current melt 10,000 years ago when planet Earth exited began the current interglacial period.

Modern humankind didn’t even know about the continent Antarctica until 1820 when sealers not only sighted it, but set foot on it.

Modern humankind didn’t really begin proper scientific studies of Antarctica until the mid-1950’s. There were no satellites providing any coverage of Antarctica until 1979.

Since the 1980’s, there has been a wealth of scientific work with bathymetric studies showing the path of retreating glaciers in the South Shetland Islands (just off the northern ‘tip’ of the Antarctic Peninsula) to studies of diatoms similarly proving the ice sheets of the northern tip of Antarctica has retreated at least twice in the last 500 years.

So, it is any surprise that 35 years after NASA launched the first satellites over Antarctica, that they have enough evidence to state that the ice sheet is melting at this time? No, not really…

Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

And apparently, that is what they also say in their news release. In fact, quite amazingly, the source of those sensational headlines, NASA, is only referring to one small part of the ice sheet – the Amundsen Sea, which is apparently at higher risk than other parts of West Antarctica due to ocean currents circulating under the ice sheet as well as some other unique conditions. Although the article goes on to extrapolate to the rest of the continent, they do admit in that one area, the sea levels may rise – over the next several centuries. If the area in the Amundsen Sea was the ONLY area to melt, then sea levels would rise by 1.2m, and if the whole West Antarctic ice sheet was to melt, 5m of sea level change would occur – over centuries.

So, I’m not disagreeing with the evidence here – I’m glad we are able to prove that in the last 35 years, the ice sheets of West Antarctica are melting – its more proof on something pretty much known since the 1950’s and has been part of an ongoing process since 8,000BC… But I do object to the media playing it up as if it means WE are the cause of this melting and only implying WE can stop this is by following the IPCC mandate of ceasing all burning of fossil fuels!

So, question time:

  1. Does the NASA research give ANY indication at all that humans are the only cause of melting in the West Antarctic ice sheet? Given it started 10,000 years ago, I’m going to say no.
  2. Does 35 years of satellite coverage conclusively mean humans burning fossil fuels are the only thing causing unstoppable global warming? I’m going to again go with no – after all, the geologic record tells us there have been several retreats and advances in the last few centuries, let alone goodness knows how many advances and and retreats in the last 10,000 years!
  3. So, if we stop burning ALL fossil fuels tomorrow, will humans  be able to prevent the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet? I think that one is a big fat NO!
  4. And if humans were to stop burning some fossil fuels, will we stop the West Antarctic ice sheet? Again no.
  5. And if you think that to stop burning fossil fuels will prevent the West Antarctic Ice sheet from melting, what do you think started it melting 10,000 years ago? Do we have any control over that?!

So it might be time to stop angsting over gathering scientific proving that warming is happening, and start asking just how effective we are going to be at stopping it with a cessation of fossil fuel emission – and maybe, just possibly, start adapting to the consequences!

Do you think the mainstream media was trying to mislead with their headlines about the melting West Antarctic ice sheet? Or do you agree that only humans can stop this? Please provide comments below!

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