Global Warming Melting Polar Greenland and Glacial Ice

So what’s a little ice lost in the frozen Arctic and Antarctica tundra to those of us who live in temperate and tropical zones?  It doesn’t pose the immediate threat of fires, tornadoes, hurricanes or the creeping threat of millions of gallons of oil washing up on fragile shores from spills of off-shore pipe lines.  But ultimately its effect will create longer lasting and more widespread destruction than all of these disasters combined.

The ice sheets at the north and south poles of earth and Greenland, along with the mountain glacier ice, serve as earth’s air conditioner.  It does this, according to the scientist at NASA and The National Snow and Ice Data Center, because ice naturally cools the air and water masses around the world and serves as a deflector shield to solar radiation.  When earth’s ice melts, as it is doing at alarming rates, we lose these cooling affects and the dark earth surface that was once covered by reflective ice can now more easily absorb the sun’s rays and add to a hotter planet.  This is what’s known as a “climate forcing” effect; a condition that generates greater heat than was there before the change occurred.


When we reach a threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) atmospheric concentrations of CO2 we will begin to see the collapse of Greenland’s Ice sheet.  We are currently at 392 ppm globally and gaining approximately 2 ppm each year.  This CO2 content in the atmosphere now is higher than it has ever been in over 425,000 years.  This rise in CO2 levels is directly linked to our use of burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) beginning in the late 17th and early 18th century, referred to as the Industrial Age.  According to the Director of the International Polar Year [IPY] Program Office, Dr. David Carlson, once the Greenland sheet melts we will see a rise in sea level of “a meter or more … in this century”

In just 6 short years the mass loss of Greenland’s ice increased from 137 Gt/yr in 2002–2003 to 286 Gt/yr in 2007–2009, i.e., an acceleration of −30 ± 11 Gt/yr2 in 2002–2009.  This is a little more than one trillion tons of ice lost in a shorter period than climate scientists thought was going to occur.  This information was reported on Dr. Joe Romm’s blog a year and a half ago.   According to “Penn State climatologist Richard Alley … the ice sheets appear to be shrinking ‘100 years ahead of schedule.’  In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thought that neither Greenland nor Antarctica would lose significant mass by 2100. They both already are.” (Two Trillion tons of land ice lost since 2003, Climate Progress, 12/18/08)


Over the last 30 years there has been significant warming in the Arctic region including just north of Alaska.  We saw signs of this unseasonable warming recently at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics where they had to bring in ice from colder regions on the eastern end of Canada to accommodate ski and snowboard competitions.  Though the data is not yet fully complete there is strong evidence supporting the effects of global warming on melting ice sheets that threaten wildlife and human economic conditions in a vast area south of the Arctic.  According to the National Resources Defense Council “the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, had been around for 3,000 years before it started cracking in 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now breaking into pieces.” (Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice, NRDC).

On the other end of the globe Ian Sample, science correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported last November: “The world’s largest ice sheet has started to melt along its coastal fringes, raising fears that global sea levels will rise faster than scientists expected.  The East Antarctic ice sheet, which makes up three-quarters of the continent’s 14,000 sq km, is losing around 57bn tonnes of ice a year into surrounding waters, according to a satellite survey of the region.”


Sadly, the climate change effects of global warming remains unimportant to many who appear only able to deal with things that everyone can agree on and poses more of an imminent threat.  We are a people that are more in the here-and-now rather than the past or the yet-to-come.  Global warming is too much an invisible slow creeper to excite the public yet.

This message cannot be pigeon-holed though and must be repeated loud and often.  Mainstream media cannot be relied upon because 1), it doesn’t present enough “news worthy” appeal for the taste of their short-span viewers and 2), most media sources and their “news” broadcasts are by-products of large diversified corporate ownerships.  The negative impact that fossil fuel use is creating doesn’t sit well with corporate sponsors whose oil or oil-based products are the source of salaries and profits for these media corporate owners.

The potential threat of global warming however will soon pique the interest of broadcasters and their viewer/listener audience probably sooner than expected.  Many scientists are seriously looking at the hydrological cycle of global warming where increased water vapor creates more rain, severe storms, tornadoes and flooding.   These here-and-now occurrences are more than likely setting the stage for the eventual extremes of global warming with its “hotter dryer weather that causes droughts and fires”.

The scientific view is that when cooling waters from polar and glacier ice melts hit the warmer ocean water the level of precipitation is increased.  The temperature change resulting from these monster precipitation occurrences, most recently the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee, are creating record levels of flooding and mud slides routinely around the world.  2008 and 2009 saw huge increases in tornado activity, hail and straight line wind according to ΑIR Worldwide, a provider of risk modeling software and consulting services. 

In an October 2009 article it was noted that “[b]illion dollar severe thunderstorm losses are no longer uncommon.”  Damages from severe thunderstorms in 2009 “resulted in total aggregate insured losses of $9.56 billion. This ranks second in terms of aggregate insured losses from January to September in the last 10 years, exceeding the average from 2000 to 2008 ($6.5 billion trended to 2009 dollars) by nearly 50%. (The 2009 Severe Thunderstorm Season in Review: AIR Worldwide, By Dr. Tim Doggett and Dr. Shiraj Khan, 10/13/09)


There is a balance and a rhythm that allows earth to rotate on its axis and endure cyclical changes within parameters that have existed since the beginning of time.  When there are dramatic changes to planet earth on a grand scale they occur at rates slow enough to allow what animal life exists to adapt.  Once that balance is lost and the rhythm skips a beat, then changes with the environment occur at a rate where species become extinct for lack of ability to adapt quickly enough.

In a study funded by the National Science Foundation in 2002 released in the science journal Nature, it was “found that more than one-third of 1,103 native species they studied in six regions around the world could vanish or plunge to near extinction by 2050 as climate change turns plains into deserts or alters forests. (“Study sees mass extinctions via warming”, staff and news service reports, 1/8/04).  The rapid polar and glacier ice melts is the climate change that’s resulting from our increasing use of fossil fuels and is negatively affecting the earth’s natural timing on warming trends.

Many of us will likely see the ill-effects of rapid global warming from fossil fuel use; scientists have assured us of this.  But the degree of damage can be contained if we start NOW changing policies and practices where we wean ourselves off of coal and oil and convert to the greener, low and no-carbon energy sources of wind, solar, bio-fuels and hydrothermal.  Without this immediate action the ice sheets of the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland will dissolve at a rate that we will be unable to reverse.


Satellites show Arctic Literally on Thin Ice

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Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James C. Hansen