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Antarctica – where more ice and less ice is proof of climate change

The sea ice around Antarctica is at a record high since satellites started recording, and snowfall is thumping down on the northern Antarctic Peninsula*, but alas — some glaciers on the same peninsula are continuing to melt, just like they have done for 300 years. Hence, a team of researchers-with-models conclude that this means these glaciers are especially, very, super-sensitive to air temperature changes and will “likely” melt fast, raise sea-levels, and disappear in 200 years time.[1]

Glaciers in northern Antarctic Peninsula melting faster than ever despite increased snowfall

Increased snowfall will not prevent the continued melting of glaciers in the northern Antarctic Peninsula, according to new research. Scientists have discovered that small glaciers that end on land around the Antarctic Peninsula are highly vulnerable to slight changes in air temperature and may be at risk of disappearing within 200 years. — Science Daily

“Faster than ever!”  Blame Climate Change TM:

[Prof Glasser]: “This unprecedented glacier recession, in response to climate change, will result in significant contributions to sea level rise from this and similar Antarctic Peninsula mountain glaciers and ice caps.” –Wales.co

Hmm. I note that other warming parts of Antarctica are near a string of volcanoes and (surprize) so is this one. Though some red dots are inactive or dormant.

The red dots on the map are volcanoes (up to 11 million years old). That includes the living and the dead ones.

The proximity doesn’t mean that volcanic or geothermal energy is melting the glaciers. But does anyone know if they aren’t? Dr Davies sweeping publicity suggests they can measure the geothermal heat flux under the ice and water. Call me unconvinced — rather than adding up the kilojoules, I don’t think we can even add up the volcanoes. It’s  hard to tell what is going on under a km of ice. We seem to keep discovering new volcanoes — for example: like an active volcano erupting last May, and before that a whole new Antarctic volcano last November. As one researcher puts it, things are going swimmingly if you are a volcano researcher in Antarctica.

Prof Smilley describes the situation:

“Antarctica is the largest glaciovolcanic province in the world. There are many volcanoes and they occur all the way from the sub-Antarctic South Sandwich Islands, through the Antarctic Peninsula and Marie Byrd Land, and into East Antarctica, a distance of about 5000 km.

“Studies of past ice sheets using glaciovolcanic outcrops are still in their infancy.””

Have we found the last volcano around Antarctica? Possibly not…

“This is really the golden age of discovery of the Antarctic continent,” said Richard Aster, a co-author of the study and a seismologist at Colorado State University. “I think there’s no question that there are more volcanic surprises beneath the ice.”

OK. But Dr Davies and co have plenty of time to discuss the implications of their “likely” calculations on glaciers 200 years from now,  however they don’t mention any volcanoes in the press release.

“These small glaciers around the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula are likely to contribute most to rising sea levels over the coming decades, because they can respond quickly to climate change,” said Dr Davies, from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. “This study is the first to show how glaciers in this vulnerable region are likely to respond to climate change in future. Our findings demonstrate that the melting will increase greatly even with a slight rise in temperature, offsetting any benefits from increased snowfall.”

 Will any of the journalists who repeat the story ask them a question about volcanoes? Or will the coverage here be the same weak  “half-truth” discussion of West Antarctic warming as the last time?

Note the big clue here about the glaciers starting to melt 300 years ago – – long before CO2 started rising.

Dr Davies added: “Geological evidence from previous studies suggests that the glacier grew by 10km within the last 5,000 years, before shrinking back to its current position. It was argued that this occurred during a warmer but wetter period, suggesting that increased precipitation in the future would offset the melting of the glaciers. However, our study shows that this growth occurred during the colder ‘Little Ice Age’, reaching its largest size just 300 years ago.”

Will any journalist ask about that either? Doesn’t fit the theory…

 That West Antarctic melting couldn’t be caused by volcanoes could it?

As commenter  icyduggie2 says on the ABC blog about record levels of sea ice:

Does this mean that it will eventually get so hot that all the oceans will freeze?


[1^] Bethan J. Davies, Nicholas R. Golledge, Neil F. Glasser, Jonathan L. Carrivick, Stefan R. M. Ligtenberg, Nicholas E. Barrand, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Michael J. Hambrey, John L. Smellie. Modelled glacier response to centennial temperature and precipitation trends on the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2369

*You may be wondering where the northern Antarctic Peninsula is — since every Antarctic peninsula is on the “north”. It’s the north end of the West Antarctic Peninsula.

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