Sheila McNulty Antarctic ice melting supports global warming

A new study of Antarctic ice suggests that in spite all the fuss around climategate, the controversy over whether scientists have withheld facts casting doubt on the theory of global warming, there continues to be evidence that the world is heating up. The latest evidence is from the US Geological Survey, which said its research is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990.

Its latest research, on the southern part of the Peninsula, is particularly alarming, according to the USGS, because that area has the Peninsula’s coolest temperatures. Because the USGS has found ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula, it feels certain that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula. In the words of USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno:

This research is part of a larger ongoing USGS project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline in detail, and this is important because the Antarctic ice sheet contains 91 per cent of earth’s glacier ice. The loss of ice shelves is evidence of the effects of global warming. We need to be alert and continually understand and observe how our climate system is changing.

The USGS says the retreating ice shelves could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide. It explains the importance of this:

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and aready floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 per cent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

To put all this in perspectve, the USGS says, the Antarctic Peninsula’s southern section, as described in this study, contains five major ice shelves. The ice lost since 1998 in just one of them, the Wilkins Ice Shelf, totals more than 4,000 square kilometers. That is an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Whatever the scientists involved in climategate are hiding does not matter in the face of this evidence. Momentum to curb greenhouse gas emissions, however fragile, must continue.