Scientists have long feared that Earth might feel the full effects of global warming within a few decades. But rapidly melting sea ice around Antarctica could spell disaster sooner than anyone thought. Here is what’s happening.
Ice in the sea around Antarctica is an important regulator for temperatures around the globe.
Forming a huge white mass that connects with ice on land, icebergs, and ice shelves, sea ice acts as a mirror to reflect much of the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere and space.
That keeps the water beneath the ice cold, which makes those icy waters a heat sink for the entire planet. It’s like a big reservoir of coolant that helps keep us from overheating.
However, scientists have been tracking an alarming trend during the Antarctic winter months of 2023.
Summer for Some
With summer set to start in the southern hemisphere, Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center says the sea ice area has fallen to record lows.
At 17 million square kilometers, the floating sea ice around Antarctica is about 1.5 million square kilometers smaller than usual at this time of year.
And, with warmer temperatures just ahead, scientists fear a sort of chain reaction could occur that might mean irreversible ice loss.
Dr. Caroline Holmes at the British Antarctic Survey says we could be in for a long and dangerous cycle of the so-called “ice-albedo effect.”
As sea ice melts, the sun’s rays are absorbed by the dark ocean below instead of reflected back toward space.
The water warms up as a result, which leads to even more ice melting and exposes even more dark ocean to absorb even more heat.
At least, in theory, the loop could continue until the ice is all gone. And that could spell global disaster.
Even a slight rise in either sea level or sea temperature can cause massive storms and tidal waves on coastlines everywhere on Earth.
If the melting continued onto mainland Antarctica, it’s hard to predict exactly how catastrophic the result would be. But nowhere on Earth would be safe from the effects.
Dr. Robbie Mallet, whose team measures ice thickness at the Rothera scientific base, says there is some chance we’re witnessing a perfect storm scenario in Antarctica.
Can Nature Self-Correct?
It’s possible, for example, that many natural phenomena are conspiring to make the current ice-melting situation as bad as possible.
Mallet points to this year’s overall warmer oceans, shifting currents, and a developing El Niño as factors that could be contributing to the ice melting.
That thought gives a glimmer of hope that nature could self-correct and the ice could start to regrow once some or all of those forces change course.
But Mallet also warns there is no guarantee what’s happening in Antarctica is a moment-in-time glitch that nature will self-correct.
Instead, Mallet echoes the feelings of many other scientists and climate observers in saying that we have “very, very good reasons to be worried.”
The post “Be Worried”: Are We Doomed? Rapid Antarctic Sea Ice Melting Signals URGENT Climate Crisis first appeared on The Net Worth Of.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Bernhard Staehli