“Unstoppable” Melting Glaciers Bring California's Future Flooding into the Present

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The world has crossed a threshold it can't step back from and the result will change the face of California, making large parts of it largely unrecognizable in 100 years.

A new study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of California, Irvine, based on 40 years of data collection from the sea and the skies, has established that melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet is inevitable and moving faster than expected. “The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” said glaciologist and lead author of the study Eric Rignot.

“This is really happening,” NASA's Thomas P. Wagner, who helped oversee some of the research, told the New York Times. ““There’s nothing to stop it now.”

Sea levels will rise 10 feet within a century or two, wiping out the last of California's coastal marshes, turning West San Diego into an archipelago and creating an inland sea from downtown Sacramento to Tracy, wiping out the west side of Stockton. Trillions of dollars in coastal development will be lost. Countless species will disappear. It may start slow as the ice melts into the warmer sea, but it will pick up the pace with devastating speed.

Costa Mesa, Long Beach, Oxnard and Salinas will be inundated. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the source of much of the state's fresh water, will be filled to the brim with saltwater. The report paints a grim picture, even without taking into account the volatility in weather that climate change is already bringing.

Researchers used satellite data between 1992 and 2011 to map the movement of the glaciers, which are grounded to land beneath the sea in ways unobservable by the naked eye. The satellites noted the retreating movement of grounding lines that exposes the thinner glaciers, which are more vulnerable to resulting acceleration of water flow.

The NASA researchers work at California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Two journals, Science and Geophysical Research Letters, also released studies that reached the same conclusions as NASA, using different methods. Ian Joughin of the University of Washington, who led the study appearing in Science, told the Times, “There is no stabilization mechanism.”

All three reports updated and amplified a study done back in 1978 by glaciologist John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University that predicted the West Antarctic ice sheet would melt from the rapid increase in greenhouse gases produced by humans. It's not warmer air that is doing in the ice caps. Instead, scientists say, naturally warm water is being pulled from the depths of the ocean by increasingly powerful winds in Antarctica. The winds are thought to be induced by humans' contribution to global warming.

None of this is helped by the ozone hole over Antarctica, also co-created by humans but this time via the release of ozone-killing gases like halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, CFCs, HCFCs, freons and halons.

Global warming, or climate change as it came to be known when antagonists sought to diminish its alarming threat, has been ridiculed by business and political interests since scientists first began warning about it. The assault has dovetailed with a general attack on science by monied interests and pre-Enlightenment religious enthusiasts.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is the latest presumed Republican presidential candidate to dismiss human activity as being part of climate change. He told a national audience on ABC's “This Week” Sunday, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. . . . I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”

He is not alone among likely GOP candidates. The Washington Post did a roundup. Texas Senator Ted Cruz called climate change a “hoax.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal doesn't talk much about it, but is a huge proponent of oil and gas drilling and ridicules “left-wing environmental theory.” Jeb Bush is on the record as a “skeptic” and Indiana Governor Mike Pence thinks a lot of scientists are non-believers. (They aren't). Rick Santorum thinks it's a “beautifully concocted scheme” by liberals. Mike Huckabee says he knows its a hoax and always has, although in 2007 he supported a cap and trade scheme to address climate change. He denies he ever did that.

‒Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Melting Antarctic Glaciers Mean Big Changes for California (by Chris Clarke, KCET)

West Antarctic Glacier Loss Appears Unstoppable (Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt (by Justin Gillis and Kenneth Chang, New York Times)

Marine Ice Sheet Collapse Potentially Underway for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica (by Ian Joughin, Benjamin E. Smith and Brooke Medley, Science)

Where the 2016 Gop Contenders Stand on Climate Change (by Paul Waldman, Washington Post)

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