Nothing to see here: 10,000-year-old ice shelf likely to vanish in a few years; climate skeptics shrug


Since they’re trying to stop rising sea levels by prohibiting people from talking about why it’s happening, it’s not like the addition of yet another massive soon-to-be-melted chunk of ice is going to be of concern.

This time the skeptics are dissing a team of researchers, including one from The University Centre in Svalbard, who have determined the 10,000-year-old Larsen B Ice Shelf is likely to completely collapse by 2020. It’s a dramatic disintegration that began in earnest in 2002 when satellite images showed a 650-square-kilometer portion of the shelf collapsed within a month.

“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet,” said Ala Khazendar, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. who led the study, in a press release issued by the U.S. space agency.

The shelf is still about 1,600 square kilometers in size, but the researchers – using measurements obtained by plane and satellite – have determined it has been significantly weakened by a “persistent ice flow acceleration since the year 2002,” as well as a major crack growing across the remainder of the ice shelf.

“What might happen is that for a few years, we will have the detachment of big icebergs from this remaining ice shelf, and then at one point, one very very warm summer, when you have lots of melting of the surface, the whole thing will just give way, and will shatter into thousands of smaller icebergs,” Khazendar said.

Chris Borstad, an associate professor at UNIS and co-author of the paper, fed the observations into a model of the shelf to reveal the its increasing weakness.

These observations will help to develop better models for predicting the fate of other ice shelves vulnerable to the effects of a warming climate,” Borstad said in an article published by UNIS.

If one takes NASA’s summary of the impacts seriously, the consequences will be…well, serious.

“Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean,” the summary notes. “Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise.”

But the study published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the first to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and the glaciers that flow into it, isn’t impressing those who say they already know the answers.

And while it might be easy to dismiss online commenters as a bunch of nincompoops, the skeptics include politicians who have essentially banned discussion of and remedies to address climate change impacts in at least three U.S. states, and a top advisor to Australia’s prime minister who calls climate change a U.N. hoax.

Generally speaking, the feedback isn’t much different than other studies revealing catastrophic droughts, floods, melting and/or heat unseen during the past 1,000, 10,000, 1 million or 100 million years.

Among the seemingly intelligent doubters is “Nerd Range” regarding an article published by the U.S. National Public Radio: “The entire Quaternary Period, starting 2.58 Ma, is referred to as an ice age because at least one permanent large ice sheet—Antarctica—has existed continuously. Currently, the Earth is in an interglacial period, which marked the beginning of the Holocene epoch. The current interglacial began between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, which caused the ice sheets from the last glacial period to begin to disappear.”

The typical: “The Earth has been through much more drastic climate changes than this and life has survived,” a top-rated commenter wrote at the website “Get over yourselves.”

The ignorant: “I’m genuinely very worried about the polar bears,” fretted a Washington Post reader who doesn’t know which way is up