Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The Wilkin’s Ice Shelf is Collapsing… Time for Another Global Warming Post

with 7 comments


The Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica started to collapse in February. It’s been breaking up since then and is pretty much “hanging by a thread.” The Antarctic summer is coming to a close, so the show is over for now most likely. Still, more bad news. On the one hand the Antarctic peninsula has warmed more than anywhere else on the planet the last few decades, so this development is not completely unexpected. Numerous other ice shelves in the region have collapsed in recent years. Still, the breaking up of an ice shelf that has persisted for thousands of years can’t be a good thing. Especially when this shelf was expected to be stable for another 15 years or so. Once again the global warming people got it wrong…it’s worse than they predicted. Yikes

On the plus side, these are floating ice shelves, so they don’t raise the sea level when they break up. On the down side, open sea absorbs more heat than an ice shelf, so this will speed global warming. On the plus side, this ice shelf at least doesn’t seem to be holding back any glaciers. So Wilkins is isolated, its collapse won’t effect surrounding areas all that much. Thank God for small favours I guess.

Speaking of glaciers though, boy, more bad news. Melting in a number of glaciers around the globe has accelerated greatly the past few years. This is bad for two reasons. It’s another “canary in the coal mine” so to speak, an indicator that global warming is accelerating. Secondly, it’s also alarming because some of the world’s great rivers depend on glacier water to maintain year round flow. It would be a very bad thing if the glaciers supplying water to these rivers disappeared.

Moving right along, I came across the best global warming web site ever. I highly recommend “Skeptical Science: Examining the Science of Global warming Skepticism” It’s a really handy site, they keep up with the news. And best of all, they track the various arguments used by global warming skeptics and discuss the science behind them. So any time one comes across one of these arguments, all one has to do is visit this site and find out what’s wrong (or right) with it. It’s well organized and more importantly, kept current, unlike the previous excellent site I also recommend “How to talk to a global warming sceptic.”

Most global warming skeptical arguments can be dismissed more or less out of hand, they confuse weather with climate or repeat the “global cooling” scare of the seventies or otherwise use an argument so lame as to reveal that the skeptic doesn’t even have a grasp of the basics of climate science. Sometimes though the argument is more convincing. And since I am not a “true believer,” when I come across an article that has plausible sounding arguments, I wonder if I am wrong somehow? It’s nice to have the scientific take on the actual science involved, although it can be painful to get into the nuts and bolts of forcings, milankovitch cycles, and all the rest. I certainly don’t claim to understand it all.

One final climate note. There is an effort underway to stop referring to “global warming” and instead refer to “global climate change.” I’m sure the skeptics have all sorts of conspiratorial reasoning around this, but it’s very simple. Scientists got tired of people thinking that because it’s cold in Walla-Walla, it means global warming is a hoax. Global warming is about a very modest rise in average global temperatures, and doesn’t mean the Earth is turning into a desert. Global Climate Change is a far more accurate description, since that is what is happening as the globe warms up.

Moving right along, I couldn’t help but notice that “collapsing” seems to be a theme these days. The surge in Iraq appears to be falling apart. The economy continues its tailspin. China’s Olympic Games appear to be threatened (as many expected) by Chinese dissidents seeing this as a chance to protest living in a one party dictatorship. The Democratic presidential campaign is bogged down at best, are they going to even run anyone against McCain this fall? Obama is still stuck with his pastor issues, Clinton “miss-spoke” about being under enemy fire in Bosnia. And this is just March, my predicted “interesting year” is well under way.

(The above image is from US government satellite images and is public domain under US Copyright law. And yes, I’m alarmed about the rapid changes in the Arctic and Antarctic. If that makes me an alarmist, so be it.)

Written by unitedcats

March 26, 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in enviroment, Science, World

7 Responses

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  1. There’s a worse-case scenario that the melting could accelerate by a process of runaway friction if the shelf breaks off and the glaciers begin sliding.


    March 26, 2008 at 10:24 pm

  2. Also, I think it is best to refer to global warming and not the neutral “climate change” which does not give information to the listener/reader as to the nature of the problem. Adding syllables to remove information is unhelpful.


    March 26, 2008 at 10:28 pm

  3. I actually like the global climate change moniker, because maybe it will better link some of the extreme weather patterns that we are experiencing to anthropogenic activity.


    March 27, 2008 at 8:36 am

  4. p.s. what’s the meaning of the squiggly next to your name?


    March 27, 2008 at 8:36 am

  5. I’m not a scientist, just a history buff. I remember when the P-38s were found in Greenland. They were crashed on the ice in 1942. They were found in 1992. They were found 268 feet below the surface. I’ve had things buried in the snow before, so this makes sense to me. It seems pretty straight foreward that the ice accumulated at 5.36 feet per year. Can you explain this? Did the planes sink or did the ice accumulate? How does this event play into GW?
    Thanks. You have a very interesting website.


    April 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

  6. As far as I know this was just normal snow accumulation, some parts of Greenland get a fair bit of precipitation. I don’t really think this relates to global warming, though overall Greenland does appear to be melting at this point. I might post about Glacier Girl someday too, I saw a show on it, neat story. :)


    May 2, 2008 at 8:48 am


    Samuel Naugle

    October 7, 2008 at 8:57 am

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