Ice Retreating Everywhere

Twenty years ago I was happy to collaborate with the NASA Earth Observatory folks, to ramp up a long term, continuous, global record of the Earth, especially the Earth’s climate. My own part was miniscule, but I feel a bit of pride in the quality and importance of the science that continues to roll in.

Yet more remote sensing data from satellites this month documents the melting of the Northern ice cap. As summer ends, it appears that this year tied for the third lowest summer minimum, not quite a low as 2012. Having a similar result for the winter maximum, this year is on course for another near record low. Even in the time the current satellites have been in orbit, we have seen a dramatic speed up.

At the other end of the Earth, spring is coming to Antarctica. The picture there is more complex, with some areas of ice thickening, others thinning, and a possible increase in calving, as glaciers and shelves break up in the warmer sea.

This month satellite observations show rapid change in a crack that may develop into a large calving event. Bearing in mind that this is end of the cold winter months, the growth of the crack means something big is going on there. The satellite coverage means that this event will be observed from the start.

Growing Crack in Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf Spotted by NASA's MISR Image credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team
Growing Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf Spotted by NASA’s MISR Image credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team

Obviously, one crack is only a small event. But the interactions of ice and ocean are really important, and may well be critical to the future of the Southern ice cap, and the fate of life on Earth. If that ice cap melts (and I’m betting it will), sea level will rise 10s of meters everywhere. That will flood most human cities and huge areas of land, and basically change the face of the planet and life on land.

Anyway, these are some nice results from a project that I admire.

Well done.


Space Saturday


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