Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Melting Antarctica Will Shake the World

SUMMARY: New science on melting Antarctica. From Tasmania, polar expert Dr. Roland C. Warner. Then the return of Marjory Wildcraft, with more tips on growing your own groceries. Radio Ecoshock 150415

This week on Radio Ecoshock, we're going to the end of the Earth. It's a feature length interview about new science that shows Antarctica is melting. I guarantee you will read headlines, and see amazing video news, from the science you'll hear this week on Radio Ecoshock. For one thing, sea levels will rise around the planet, for centuries, reshaping the coastlines and civilization.

Then we'll finish up with the return of Marjory Wildcraft, with more tips on growing your own groceries. It's all food for thought and action.

I'm Alex Smith. The journey begins.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


There's a lot of action in Antarctica - and that can bring changes all over the world. Here to discuss recent science is Dr. Roland C. Warner. He is a researcher with the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Tasmania. Tasmania is the closest Australian state to Antarctica.

In a shocking bit of news, Antarctica just experienced the two hottest days ever recorded there, namely 63.5°F or 17.5 C at the Argentinian Esperanza Base on Antarctic Peninsula. I've heard that was warmer than the temperature in Britain on the same day in late March.

Dr. Warner says it's not that surprising, because there is no doubt Antarctica is warming over-all, along with the rest of the planet. This one-day event doesn't mean much. A previous record was set in 1961. It takes a few thousand days to be "climate change."

According to the British Antarctic Survey on Warming in the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50 years: that polar continent warmed by 5 degrees Fahrenheit ( 2.8 degrees Celsius), since 1950. In the interview Warner may have said 5 degrees C. but he meant 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Even 5 degrees F. makes this arm of Antarctica pointing toward South America one of the fastest warming parts of the whole planet.

That shows up in giant ice shelves cracking off West Antarctica, like the Larsen B. ice shelf that disintegrated in February 2002. The whole of West Antarctica is losing mass, as shown by the NASA Grace satellites that can measure mass from space. That means it's melting, and eventually several meters of sea level rise will pour out of that part of the continent.


But hold on, we have to distinguish between three types of ice around the poles. They are:

* sea ice (the surface of the ocean freezes)

* ice shelves (permanently frozen water, over the sea, but anchored to the land)

* glaciers (ice based on land)

As Dr. Warner explains, we know since the famous bath-tub experiment by the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes, water levels will not rise when ice in water melts. That is why your drink does not overflow when the ice cubes in it melt: the same mass of water was already displaced by the ice.

So disappearing sea ice in the Arctic, or collapsing ice shelves in the Antarctic, do not directly add to sea level rise. However, Roland tells us, the ice shelves can retard the flow of glaciers into the sea, and speed up glacier melt when they disappear. So ice shelf collapse can indirectly add to sea level rise. There's lots of science on this.

Secondly, we've been talking about West Antarctica. The biggest portion of the Antarctic continent is "East Antarctica". (There's no point in talking about North or South Antarctica, since everywhere is more or less "North" there.) As recently as five years ago, I can remember reading that East Antarctica would not be a major factor in sea level rise in this century. Not much was happening there, it was said, and in fact some areas were getting colder, not warmer.

That's all been stood on it's head with new science. Last May I did a program on NASA's revelations that East Antarctica was also losing ice mass. Find the blog entry, and that program here.

Our guest Roland Warner is a co-author of a new study that shows massive ice loss from another giant of East Antarctica, the Totten Glacier.

The title of that new science is "Ocean access to a cavity beneath Totten Glacier in East Antarctica". The Totten is the largest glacier in East Antarctica. At 540,000 square kilometers, it's size is simply mind-boggling. For North American listeners, the Totten drains an area more than twice the size of all the Great Lakes put together. Aussies would say it's more than twice the size of the Australian State of Victoria.

Seventy billion tons of ice flows out of the Totten Glacier, into the ocean, every year. That's about the flow rate of Niagara Falls, and it is expected to increase. Why? Because, and this is the crux of the new paper, scientists have discovered deep channels where warmer water can flow right under the glacier. "Warmer" water isn't terribly warm, but it contains enough extra energy to melt the glacier from below.


That takes us to another key concept going the rounds with experts. It's the "grounding line". My understanding is that's the point where the glacier reaches the sea and floats on top of it. But also: the geography below the glacier will determine what, if anything, will retard the flow of all that ice into the sea. The problem, according to NASA scientists, in West Antarctica, they haven't found any under-glacier mountain or ridge to stop glaciers there from pouring into the sea. That means that really big sea level rise is coming, and again according to NASA, the progress of West Antarctic ice into the sea is now "unstoppable".

A large Antarctic contribution to sea level rise will happen even if we cut all carbon emissions tomorrow. We have crossed that tipping point. That is why Antarctica will shake the world.

Please listen to this interview to get the real science, from a real scientist (which I'm not).


We also talked about two strange twists to this story. I encountered the first from comments made by scientist Laurie Padman, a co-author of another paper titled "Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating." Here's the twist: as more glaciers lose mass in Antarctica (adding to global sea level rise) the sea levels around Antarctica, and Greenland, may actually go DOWN.

Why? Because water is attracted to mass, to heavy things, by gravity. If these polar continents lose a mile or more of ice from their land surface, there will be less mass, and so some of the water now attracted to those polar land masses will dissipate, and go elsewhere.

The kicker is that scientists think the extra (from rising seas AND from loss of polar mass) will show up in places like New England. New England sea levels may go up as much as 25% more than other place in the world. Ditto Japan.

The second twist is that Antarctica may actually see snow pile up higher, especially in East Antarctica, due to climate change. A generally warmer world holds more moisture in the atmosphere. That has to come down, and where it's cold, if falls as snow.

The projected increased snow in Antarctica is still rather an unknown. In our interview, Roland Warner said it would take another year of observations to "make it clear whether the acceleration in loss from Antarctic grounded ice sheet was a trend – disentangling the effect of variability in snowfall." In a follow-up email, he meant to say "several more years" and perhaps even another decade of observations. His comments are based on the paper “Limits in detecting acceleration of ice sheet mass loss due to climate variability”, B. Wouters, J. L. Bamber, M. R. van den Broeke, J. T. M. Lenaerts and I. Sasgen, Nature Geoscience 6, 613–616 (2013) doi:10.1038/ngeo1874 Find the abstract and illustrations for that paper here.


We talk about the real geography of Antarctica. Warner says if all the ice were gone, we could sail right through part of Antarctica, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean without going around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.

As Roland told me in email: "the fact that the region behind the floating part of the Totten has a large region with bedrock below sea-level is important for the potential sea level rise. This was reported in Nature in 2011: Young, D. A., et al. (2011), A dynamic early East Antarctic Ice Sheet suggested by ice covered fjord landscapes, Nature, 474(7349), 72–75, doi:10.1038/nature10114. Find the abstract for that paper here, or download a .pdf of that paper here.

It's not easy trying to map our this continent, below a mile or more of ice! Scientists are still working on it, and some parts of Antarctica are still unknown, the last frontier some would say.

We also talk about the lack of scientific consensus on how much sea level will rise by the year 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been very, very conservative, suggesting one meter by the end of this century. Others say we will get one meter of sea level rise from Antarctica alone. Some scientists suggest several meters of sea level rise (more than 10 feet) is possible. We don't know yet.

Hanging in the balance are many of the world's largest cities, which would be partially submerged. Several countries in the South Pacific are almost guaranteed to disappear. Deltas supporting millions, as in Bangladesh for example, will fill with salt water, ending agriculture there. This may be the biggest question of climate change.


I had a little difficulty finding a scientist with wide interests in Antarctica willing to give us this update. Roland Warner was brave to take it on, with an eye to keeping us in the research loop - because this is really important news for all of us, even though it takes place far away. The coasts of the world will be re-arranged, no matter where our cities are, because of melting in Antarctica.

Roland is a research scientist for the government-funded Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. That's located in Tasmania. I thought the island of Tasmania was the part of Australia closest to Antarctica, but Warner tells me Australia claims islands that are closer still. In fact, Australia has laid claim to 42% of Antarctica. Many countries claim parts of the Continent, but all those are currently on hold, under the Antarctic Treaty established in the 1950's.

Warner has flown many times in an old World-War Two vintage DC3 airplane over Antarctica, as they make painstaking maps and measurements. The propeller driven planes can fly at the slow speeds needed to operate the instruments. It's many hours out and back, with no civilization below. Warner was also aboard the Australian ice breaker Aurora Australis when it made the closest approach ever to the Totten Glacier front, where it drops giant chunks of ice into the sea.

He's been part of a research venture called ICECAP - Investigating Cryospheric Evolution through Collaborative Aerogeophysical Profiling. Apparently ICECAP can also stand for Investigating Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate.

Find more about that here and here (University of Texas site)

Any way you take it, events on Antarctica will re-shape our world. We were lucky to get extended time from Dr. Warner. I also appreciate his help in educating me in preparation for this interview. Any errors found in this blog are my own, and not those by Roland Warner.

Listen to/download this 45 minute Antarctic science update with Roland C Warner in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Last week we featured Marjory Wildcraft, author of the wildly successful DVD series called "Grow Your Own Groceries". She organized a super-summit of small-scale growers, home gardeners and pepper gardeners - all free last week. It was the "Home Grown Food Summit" with over 30 presenters. Over 100,000 people tuned in for that!

That shows the amazing growth of people who want to grow their own food for a variety of reasons including:

* knowing factory foods are bad for your health (pesticides, toxics, fats, sugars)

* knowing factory farming is bad for the environment (global warming, soil loss, abuse of animals, GMOs)

* knowing the supermarket food system is fragile, and may fail without much warning

* experiencing the high cost of food, and looking for cheaper alternatives

That's just the short list. Did I mention crops failing due to climate change and extreme weather?

So I asked Marjory to come back, with more tips we can all use to grow food. In this interview, we assume you know why to do it. Now we get down to how to do it.

We had Sylvia Bernstein, one of the original writers about aquaponics, on our June 2013 Radio Ecoshock Show. Find the blog for that interview here. You can download or listen to that interview with Sylvia here. She's fabulous. But when I watched some serious You tube videos about it, aquaponics seems pretty tricky and demanding. It can be tricky keeping fish alive.

There's no doubt that aquaponics can provide some super veggies, really lush crops. But I worry it will require too much energy to keep the fish warm enough in the winters in northern states or Canada. Yet the people who have a mind to manage an aquaponics system have a lot of top quality food to show for it. It's up to you.

We all know gardening can help seniors maintain their mental and physical health much longer. But eventually we may not be able to handle the heavy work. We talk a bit about how can we set up a garden to keep going with very little effort. Thinks like raised beds can help those who have trouble bending over, for example. In fact busy working people need the same thing. We can't cover it all in a short interview. Check out Marjory's DVD course for her tips to save time and effort.

You know it's strange. You start following your heart into something, as Marjory did with her transition from a financial planner to personal food growing, (which I could also call personal liberty.) Then she teaches, communicates, and suddenly, Marjory Wildcraft has become a one-woman movement on her own. Of course, as we discuss, she's connected to a world-wide collection of home-growers, all sharing tips, all educating one another.

Listen to this second Radio Ecoshock interview with Marjory Wildcraft in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

If you missed last week's longer talk with Marjory, about the Home Grown food summit and her work, find that here in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

Check out last week's blog for a list of my favorite Majory Wildcraft You tube videos. You can learn a lot!

I'm prepping my own garden right now, with two new raised beds, a better compost bin, nets for the rasberries, and 8 inches of mulch all around.

Find all our past programs as mp3 downloads at our web site Listen on the soundcloud page, at If you can afford it, please help support me making this program. That's my life, dedicated to communicating alternative truths that can help us be ready for the future. Get the details on many different ways to contribute to Radio Ecoshock here. Any amount is appreciated.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and I hope we'll get together again next week, as we talk with the creator of the popular and inspiring climate work called Robert Scribbler's blog.

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