Environment

As Antarctic Sea Ice Melts, Seaweed Smothers Seafloor

As sea ice melts at the poles, increasingly more sunlight hits the seafloor. This allows algae and seaweed to thrive in ecosystems once dominated by invertebrates.

Animals that dwell on the seafloor of the Arctic and Antarctic spend most of their lives in total darkness: Sea ice blocks rays during the spring and early summer, and the sun sets completely in the winter. Late summer and early fall — when the ocean warms up enough to thaw the ice — often marks the only time these creatures see light.

But as climate change causes sea ice to begin melting earlier and earlier in the summer, shallow-water ecosystems will soak up increasingly more rays. New research from a team of Australian biologists suggests this could cause a major shift in the seafloor communities along the coast of Antarctica, where invertebrates like sponges, worms and tunicates — globular organisms that anchor to rocks on the seafloor — currently dominate.

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Global Warming

Greenhouse Gas Causing Ocean ‘Tooth Decay’

Rising amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels are having a catastrophic, decaying effect on some marine life, according to new research.

Scientists from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews say increased acidity in the oceans due to more CO2 in the air is causing something comparable to tooth decay for tiny organisms known as foraminifera, or forams.

They are single-celled creatures that build elaborate shells to protect themselves.

The drop in ocean pH due to the greenhouse gas is reducing the number and sizes of these shells, with many becoming deformed. This makes it far more difficult for the creatures to feed.

And since they are at the base of the ocean food chain, scientists fear losses in the foram population could affect far larger marine life.

“The threat of future acidification is very real, and comes at a time when the human population depends more than ever on a healthy and productive marine environment,” said St. Andrews researcher David Patterson.

It’s feared that the greater ocean acidity could also soon affect shellfish, coral and other creatures.

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Global Warming

Global Warming’s New Natural Disaster: “Himalayan tsunamis”

This summer’s devastating “Himalayan tsunami” is a grim omen for the future of the millions of people living downstream from the majestic mountain range.

The June floods wiped out the Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath and may have killed as many as 6,000 people.

According to preliminary studies, dozens of houses were smashed and hundreds of religious pilgrims were swept away when a lake above the eighth century Kedarnath Temple burst its natural dam of loosely packed glacial sediment, sending a sudden deluge of water down on the town.

Many now believe it was an accident waiting to happen — and similar accidents will happen again and again as the region gets warmer.

Rising temperatures due to global warming are fast creating thousands of glacial lakes across the region. The growing volume of meltwater is dangerously increasing the risk of sudden glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), according to the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

As the volume of water increases, so does the pressure on the dams of ice or glacial sediment, called moraine, which hold the lake in place on the side of the mountain. Once that pressure reaches the tipping point, heavy rainfall from a sudden cloudburst, a landslide, or an earthquake can breach the dam, sending a deadly torrent of ice, rock and water down on the people living below.

The results can be catastrophic.

In the weeks following the June 17 flood disaster, tens of thousands of residents, tourists and religious pilgrims were successfully evacuated. But officials still believe there are at least 5,748 people missing across the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.

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Global Warming

Lake at the North Pole – Update

The North Pole lake that had started forming at the North pole in mid-July has had its fill of Internet notoriety. The stunning blue meltwater lake that formed on the Arctic ice disappeared on Monday (July 29), draining through a crack in the underlying ice floe.

Now, instead of 2 feet (0.6 meters) of freshwater slopping against a bright-yellow buoy, a remote webcam shows only ice and clouds.

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Global Warming

Global warming endangers South American water supply

Chile and Argentina may face critical water storage issues due to rain-bearing westerly winds over South America’s Patagonian Ice-Field to moving south as a result of global warming.

A reconstruction of past changes in the North and Central Patagonian Ice-field, which plays a vital role in the hydrology of the region, has revealed the ice field had suddenly contracted around 15,000 years ago after a southerly migration of westerly winds.

This migration of westerly winds towards the south pole has been observed again in modern times and is expected to continue under a warming climate, likely leading to further ice declines in this area affecting seasonal water storage.

“We found that precipitation brought to this region by Southern Hemisphere westerlies played an important role in the glaciation of the North Patagonian Ice-Fields,” said Dr Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. 

“Our research has shown this ice-field significantly reduced in size when those winds moved southwards.”

The North Patagonian Ice-field is vital to maintain seasonal water storage capacity for Argentina and Chile.

“Worryingly, this study suggests the region may well be on a trajectory of irreversible change, which will have profound impacts on agriculture and the increasing dependency on hydroelectric power in Chile and Argentina,” Dr Fogwill said.

Global Warming

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Greening World’s Deserts

Increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels are causing deserts of the world to bloom with new green foliage, according to a new study. Randall Donohue, from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, used satellite observations from the past 30 years and found green foliage increased in arid regions during that period.

Higher levels of CO2 help the leaves during photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight into sugar.

The increased greenhouse gas allows the plant to extract more carbon from the air, lose less water to the air or both, according to the study.

“While a CO2 effect on foliage response has long been speculated, until now it has been difficult to demonstrate,” said Donohue.

“Our work was able to tease-out the CO2 fertilization effect by using mathematical modeling together with satellite data adjusted to take out the observed effects of other influences such as precipitation, air temperature, the amount of light and land-use changes,” said Donohue.

The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Satellite data shows the amount that foliage cover has changed around the world from 1982 to 2010.

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Environment

Arctic Cyclone Tears Up Sea Ice

Arctic scientists are watching in awe this week as a raging summer cyclone tears up what could become a record amount of rotting northern sea ice.

Arctic cyclones are driven by low-pressure systems in which winds of up to 100 km/h blow counter-clockwise in a spiral more than 1,000 kilometres across. They occur in both winter and summer, but are usually stronger in winter. Cyclones are not unusual in the Arctic, but seem to be changing in recent years. “These cyclones are not getting more frequent, but they are getting deeper — which means stronger.”

And they’re getting harder on sea ice, which they break up through wave action associated with high winds and through rainfall, which darkens the ice and makes it absorb more solar energy. The storms also bring up water from the depths, which is actually warmer than surface water.

Cyclones can destroy large amounts of ice very quickly. “In 2009, we actually documented one of these events in which large, multi-year ice floes – Manhattan-sized – broke up in a matter of minutes.” Last year, a particularly powerful cyclone is thought to have wiped out 800,000 square kilometres of ice. That contributed to record low sea-ice levels at the end of the 2012 melt year.

This year’s storm over the Beaufort Sea formed about mid-week and is expected to die out on the weekend. It isn’t as strong as last year’s, but the ice is thinner and weaker. As well, the ice has already been pummelled by earlier storms. “The effects of (the storm) are nowhere near what we saw last August. But because the ice is thinner and it’s already been pre-conditioned, and because there’s less volume, it’s much more vulnerable to impacts from this sort of thing.”

The ice is getting so weak that new categories have had to be created for it. “We have a whole new class of sea ice in the Arctic, which we’re calling ‘decayed ice. We started seeing it in 2009. It’s extremely weak.” Changing sea-ice cover is increasingly being linked to southern weather patterns. The jet stream, which strongly influences weather at mid-latitudes, is driven by temperature differences between the Arctic and the equator, a difference that shrinks with the sea ice. Ice coverage is slightly about last year’s record low but still well below the 30-year average.

Much remains unknown about the role of Arctic cyclones in the annual freeze-thaw cycle. Back when the sea was thick and lasted for years, cyclones tended to spread the ice out and actually increase its extent. Now, when ice gets spread out, it simply breaks up and disappears. “As our ice cover has thinned, some of our old rules are changing…This year has been very stormy. The month of August is definitely one to watch in the Arctic.”

Environment

Arctic Methane an ‘Economic Time Bomb’.

Increasing temperatures in the Arctic region are reducing sea ice cover and increasing the possibility of methane leaching from the sea bed. Scientists say that the release of large amounts of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have huge economic impacts for the world.

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The researchers estimate that the climate effects of the release of this gas could cost $60 trillion (£39 trillion), roughly the size of the global economy in 2012. The impacts are most likely to be felt in developing countries they say. Scientists have had concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on permafrost for many years. Large amounts of methane are concentrated in the frozen Arctic tundra but are also found as semi-solid gas hydrates under the sea. Previous work has shown that the diminishing ice cover in the East Siberian sea is allowing the waters to warm and the methane to leach out. Scientists have found plumes of the gas up to a kilometre in diameter rising from these waters.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, even though it lasts less than a decade in the atmosphere. the researchers examined the impact of the release of 50-gigatonnes of methane over a decade. They worked out that this would increase climate impacts such as flooding, sea level rise, damage to agriculture and human health to the tune of $60 trillion. “That’s an economic time bomb that at this stage has not been recognised on the world stage. We think its incredibly important for world leaders to really discuss what are the implications of this methane release and what could we indeed do about it to hopefully prevent the whole burst from happening.”

The researchers say their study is in marked contrast to other, more upbeat assessments of the economic benefits of warming in the Arctic region. It is thought that up to 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of undiscovered oil lie in the waters. Transport companies are looking to send increasing numbers of ships through these fast melting seas. Investment in the Arctic could reach $100bn within ten years.

But according to the new work, these benefits would be a fraction of the likely costs of a large scale methane emission. The authors say a release of methane on this scale could bring forward the date when global temperatures increase by 2C by between 15 and 35 years. New research suggests that permafrost is also melting in Antarctica. Scientists have found that ground ice in the McMurdo Dry Valley Regions has accelerated consistently between 2001 and 2012, rising to about ten times the historical average. The researchers say that rising temperatures do not account for this increased melting but is due to an increase in sunlight caused by changes in weather patterns.

“We are looking at a big effect, a possibly catastrophic effect on global climate that’s a consequence of this extremely fast sea ice retreat that’s been happening in recent years.” Some scientists have cautioned that not enough is known about the likelihood of such a rapid release of methane. Even though it has been detected for a number of years, it has as yet not been found in the atmosphere in large amounts. But the evidence is growing. “We are seeing increasing methane in the atmosphere. When you look at satellite imagery, for instance the Metop satellite, that’s gone up significantly in the last three years and the place where the increase is happening most is over the Arctic.”

The authors say that the impacts of the extra methane would be felt most in developing countries which are more vulnerable to rising waters, flooding and the agricultural and health impacts of rising temperatures.

Global Warming

North Pole Now a Lake

Instead of snow and ice whirling on the wind, a foot-deep aquamarine lake now sloshes around a webcam stationed at the North Pole. The meltwater lake started forming July 13, following two weeks of warm weather in the high Arctic. In early July, temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) higher than average over much of the Arctic Ocean, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Centre.

Meltwater ponds sprout more easily on young, thin ice, which now accounts for more than half of the Arctic’s sea ice. The ponds link up across the smooth surface of the ice, creating a network that traps heat from the sun. Thick and wrinkly multi-year ice, which has survived more than one freeze-thaw season, is less likely sport a polka-dot network of ponds because of its rough, uneven surface.

July is the melting month in the Arctic, when sea ice shrinks fastest. An Arctic cyclone, which can rival a hurricane in strength, is forecast for this week, which will further fracture the ice and churn up warm ocean water, hastening the summer melt. The Arctic hit a record low summer ice melt last year on Sept. 16, 2012, the smallest recorded since satellites began tracking the Arctic ice in the 1970s.

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Global Warming

New Antarctic Evidence Reveals Past Melting

One of the wild cards in estimating future sea level rise from global warming is the enormous East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds more freshwater in its icy expanse than the whole of Greenland.

Some climate models predict the giant ice sheet will undergo relatively little change as the planet warms in coming decades, while others forecast significant melting. Now, a new study suggests parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet underwent significant melting during the Pliocene, a recent geologic epoch when climate conditions were similar to those of today.

Scientists previously considered the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to be more stable than the much smaller ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland, even though very few studies of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet have been carried out. New work now shows that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has been much more sensitive to climate change in the past than previously realized.

During the Pliocene epoch between 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago, geologic evidence indicates atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were similar to modern levels of 400 parts per million (meaning that for every million air particles, 400 of them are carbon dioxide molecules) and global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than they are now. Sea levels stood about 66 feet (20 meters) higher, according to ancient preserved shorelines.

To raise sea level that much, all of Greenland and West Antarctica had to be ice-free and parts of East Antarctica may have melted, modeling studies show. (The Antarctic ice sheet first started forming 34 million years ago.)

Researchers looked for evidence of past ice melting by drilling into deep-sea sediments offshore of East Antarctica. The ancient mud contains a unique geochemical fingerprint that matches bedrock in the Wilkes Subglacial Basin, which is now thickly covered with ice. The sediments were deposited between about 5 million to 3 million years ago, indicating the ice sheet retreated several hundred kilometres (about 200 miles) inland, exposing the bedrock. Erosion carried the sediments offshore.

The findings were published July 21 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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Environment

Weather Extremes – The Jet Stream – Unusually Hot Alaska

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People swim and sunbathe at Goose Lake in Anchorage, Alaska on Monday, June 17, 2013. Alaska’s largest city and other parts of the state are experiencing a long stretch of higher than normal temperatures.

Lately, the jet stream isn’t playing by the rules. Scientists say that big river of air high above Earth that dictates much of the weather for the Northern Hemisphere has been unusually erratic the past few years.

They blame it for everything from snowstorms in May to the path of Superstorm Sandy. And last week, it was responsible for downpours that led to historic floods in Alberta, Canada, as well as record-breaking heat in parts of Alaska. The town of McGrath, Alaska, hit 94. Just a few weeks earlier, the same spot was 15 degrees. The current heat wave in the Northeast is also linked.

The jet stream usually rushes rapidly from west to east in a mostly straight direction. But lately it’s been wobbling and weaving like a drunken driver, wreaking havoc as it goes. The more the jet stream undulates north and south, the more changeable and extreme the weather. It’s a relatively new phenomenon that scientists are still trying to understand. Some say it’s related to global warming; others say it’s not.

In May, there was upside-down weather: Early California wildfires fueled by heat contrasted with more than a foot of snow in Minnesota. Seattle was the hottest spot in the nation one day, and Maine and Edmonton, Canada, were warmer than Miami and Phoenix. Consider these unusual occurrences over the past few years:

— The winter of 2011-12 seemed to disappear, with little snow and record warmth in March. That was followed by the winter of 2012-13 when nor’easters seemed to queue up to strike the same coastal areas repeatedly.

— Superstorm Sandy took an odd left turn in October from the Atlantic straight into New Jersey, something that happens once every 700 years or so.

— One 12-month period had a record number of tornadoes. That was followed by 12 months that set a record for lack of tornadoes.

And here is what federal weather officials call a ‘‘spring paradox’’: The U.S. had both an unusually large area of snow cover in March and April and a near-record low area of snow cover in May. The entire Northern Hemisphere had record snow coverage area in December but the third lowest snow extent for May.

The jet stream, or more precisely the polar jet stream, is the one that affects the Northern Hemisphere. It dips down from Alaska, across the United States or Canada, then across the Atlantic and over Europe and has everything to do with the weather we experience. It all starts with the difference between cold temperatures in the Arctic and warmer temperatures in the mid-latitudes. The bigger the temperature difference, the stronger the jet stream, the faster it moves and the straighter it flows. But as the northern polar regions warm two to three times faster than the rest of the world, augmented by unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice and loss in snow cover, the temperature difference shrinks. Then the jet stream slows and undulates more.

The jet stream is about 14 percent slower in the fall now than in the 1990s. And when it slows, it moves north-south instead of east-west, bringing more unusual weather, creating blocking patterns and cutoff lows that are associated with weird weather. Recently the jet stream seems to create weather patterns that get stuck, making dry spells into droughts and hot days into heat waves.

Take the past two winters. They were as different as can be, but both had unusual jet stream activity. Normally, the jet stream plunges southwest from western Washington state, sloping across to Alabama. Then it curves slightly out to sea around the Outer Banks, a swoop that’s generally straight without dramatic bends. During the mostly snowless winter of 2011-12 and the record warm March 2012, the jet stream instead formed a giant upside-down U, curving dramatically in the opposite direction. That trapped warm air over much of the Eastern U.S.

A year later the jet stream was again unusual, this time with a sharp U-turn north. This trapped colder and snowier weather in places like Chicago and caused nor’easters in New England. But for true extremes, nothing beats tornadoes.

In 2011, the United States was hit over and over by killer twisters. From June 2010 to May 2011 the U.S. had a record number of substantial tornadoes, totaling 1,050. Then just a year later came a record tornado drought. From May 2012 to April 2013 there were only 217 tornadoes – 30 fewer than the old record. Both examples were related to unusual jet stream patterns.

Last fall, a dip in the jet stream over the United States and northward bulge of high pressure combined to pull Superstorm Sandy almost due west into New Jersey. That track is so rare and nearly unprecedented that computer models indicate it would happen only once every 714 years, according to a new study by NASA.

Global Warming

What Is the Greenhouse Effect? – Reference Article

While other planets in Earth’s solar system are either scorching hot or bitterly cold, Earth’s surface has relatively mild and stable temperatures.

Earth enjoys these temperatures because of its atmosphere — the thin layer of gases that cloak and protect the planet. But humans have changed Earth’s atmosphere in dramatic ways over the past two centuries, resulting in global warming.

And to understand global warming, it’s first necessary to become familiar with the greenhouse effect.

Energy in, energy out

There’s a delicate balancing act occurring every day all across the Earth, involving the radiation the planet receives from space and the radiation that’s reflected back out to space.

Earth is constantly bombarded with enormous amounts of radiation, primarily from the sun. This solar radiation strikes the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of visible light, plus ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR) and other types of radiation that are invisible to the human eye.

UV radiation has a shorter wavelength and a higher energy level than visible light, while IR radiation has a longer wavelength and a weaker energy level.

About 30 percent of the radiation striking Earth’s atmosphere is immediately reflected back out to space by clouds, ice, snow, sand and other reflective surfaces, according to NASA.

The remaining 70 percent of incoming solar radiation is absorbed by the oceans, the land and the atmosphere. As they heat up, the oceans, land and atmosphere release heat in the form of IR thermal radiation, which passes out of the atmosphere and into space.

It’s this equilibrium of incoming and outgoing radiation that makes the Earth habitable, with an average temperature of about 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), according to NASA. Without this atmospheric equilibrium, Earth would be as cold and lifeless as its moon, or as blazing hot as Venus.

The moon, which has almost no atmosphere, is about minus 243 degrees F (minus 153 degrees C) on its dark side. Venus, on the other hand, has a very dense atmosphere that traps solar radiation; the average temperature on Venus is about 864 degrees F (462 degrees C).

The greenhouse effect

The exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation that warms the Earth is often referred to as the greenhouse effect because a greenhouse works in much the same way.

Incoming UV radiation easily passes through the glass walls of a greenhouse and is absorbed by the plants and hard surfaces inside. Weaker IR radiation, however, has difficulty passing through the glass walls and is trapped inside, thus warming the greenhouse. This effect lets tropical plants thrive inside a greenhouse, even during a cold winter.

A similar phenomenon takes place in a car parked outside on a cold, sunny day. Incoming solar radiation warms the car’s interior, but outgoing thermal radiation is trapped inside the car’s closed windows.

Greenhouse gases and global warming

The gases in the atmosphere that absorb radiation are known as greenhouse gases because they’re largely responsible for the greenhouse effect.

These greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide (NO) and other gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gasoline have greatly increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially CO2, according to NASA.

CO2 and other greenhouse gases act like a blanket, absorbing IR radiation and preventing it from escaping into outer space. The net effect is the gradual heating of Earth’s atmosphere and surface, a process known as global warming.

Atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by more than 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, from about 280 parts per million (ppm) in the 1800s to 400 ppm today. The last time Earth’s atmospheric levels of CO2 reached 400 ppm was during the Pliocene Epoch, between 5 million and 3 million years ago, according to the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The greenhouse effect, combined with increasing levels of greenhouse gases and the resulting global warming, is expected to have profound implications, according to the near-universal consensus of scientists.

If global warming continues unchecked, it will cause significant climate change, a rise in sea levels, increasing ocean acidification, extreme weather events and other severe natural and societal impacts, according to NASA, the EPA and other scientific and governmental bodies.

Environment

Man-made Particles Lower Hurricane Frequency

Higher levels of air pollution reduced the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes and other tropical storms for most of the 20th century, a study said Sunday.

Adding to evidence for mankind’s impact on the weather system, the probe found a link between these powerful storms and aerosols, the scientific term for specks of matter suspended in a gas.

Aerosols can occur in natural form — as dusty volcanic plumes, clouds or fog — but are also man-made, such as sooty particles from burning coal or oil.

The study focused on particles from North America and Europe that were generated mainly from burning fossil fuels.

Researchers from the UK Met Office created weather simulations covering the period 1860 to 2050.

They found that tropical storms were much less frequent during periods when emissions of man-made aerosols increased over the North Atlantic.

Aerosols reflect solar rays and change the brightness of clouds, which affects how much of the Sun’s heat is projected onto the surface of the sea.

Ocean warmth provides the raw energy for tropical storms, which in extreme conditions can brew into destructive hurricanes.

Conversely, the study found that measures since the 1980s to tackle pollution and improve air quality reduced levels of aerosols — have in turn ramped up hurricane activity.

The clean-up of industrial aerosols in the last 20 years, while being beneficial for human health and linked to a recovery of African Sahel rains since the 1980s droughts, may have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity.

The research team postulates that in the future, it will be Earth-warming greenhouse gases, much longer-lasting than aerosols, that will exert the most influence on tropical storm frequency.

Environment

Oceans melt Antarctica’s ice from below

The Antarctic ice sheet (shown here in a three-dimensional NASA image that exaggerates the vertical scale) is losing more ice from oceanic currents eating at it from below than from the breaking off of large blocks of ice.

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They may be less dramatic than the events in which icebergs break off, but everyday interactions with warm ocean currents could cause more than half of the ice melt along Antarctica’s coastline.

Ice shelves are portions of the larger ice sheet that extend over the ocean, floating on seawater. Conventional wisdom once held that calving, the break off of large chunks of ice, was the main factor driving ice-shelf dynamics, but recent research has underscored the role of melting from below, or ‘basal’ melting. A team of scientists led by Eric Rignot at the University of California, Irvine, has for the first time quantified this effect for the entire continent.

The results, which appear in Science, suggest that warm ocean currents are melting ice shelves predominantly at certain locations around the continent, to an extent that accounts for 55% of the annual meltwater. The findings will help scientists to tackle larger questions about how the Antarctic ice sheet might change in future and its contribution to global sea-level rise.

Rignot suggests that the ice shelves act like stoppers, stemming the slow flow of continental ice. “If they thin and disappear, then the continental ice will accelerate its movement to the sea.”

Global Warming

Global Warming To Rise To 3.6-5.3 Degree Celsius

The world is not on track to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report on Monday, which warns that unless more is done to tackle energy sector emissions, the international community will see a spike in temperature increase of between 3.6 and 5.3 degree Celsius.

IEA urged governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in London at the launch of a World Energy Outlook Special Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020.

Noting that the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions, she added: “This report shows that the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy-sector emissions without jeopardizing economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4% increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt), but also mask significant regional differences. In the United States, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid-1990s. China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity. Despite increased coal use in some countries, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt. Emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

The new IEA report presents the results of a 4-for-2 °C Scenario, in which four energy policies are selected that can deliver significant emissions reductions by 2020, rely only on existing technologies and have already been adopted successfully in several countries.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) responded to the report, saying that international efforts to mitigate the phenomenon are insufficient to meet the goal of keeping global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.