Don’t believe the hype about Antarctica’s melting glaciers


Two recent studies reported in the media focus on the terminus of glaciers—i.e., where the ice, the ocean and the ground come together. One study used an underwater drone to map the seabed at a depth of 2,000 feet, about 35 miles from the terminus of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Detailed sonar scans showed a washboard pattern of ridges, most less than 8 inches high. The ridges are caused by daily tides and serve as a record of where ice touched the seabed in the past. Researchers could read that record to infer that at some time in the past the glacier retreated for half a year at more than twice the fastest rate observed between 2011 and 2019.

The cause of the specific event at the Thwaites Glacier remains unknown, in part because the time of the rapid retreat hasn’t yet been determined. It likely happened more than 70 years ago, if not several centuries ago. But the media goes with this angle: “A ‘doomsday glacier’ the size of Florida is disintegrating faster than thought.” A correct headline would read: “Thwaites Glacier retreating less than half as rapidly today as it did in the past.” …

Under scenarios deemed likely by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a connection between ocean currents and discharge would increase the overall discharge rate in one region of the continent by some 10% by the end of the century. But to emphasize the idea being tested, the modelers used human influences almost three times larger. Even though that fact is stated in the paper, reporters rarely catch such nuance, and the media goes with headlines such as “Antarctic Ice Melting Could Be 40 Percent Faster Than Thought” with the absurd statement that “a massive tsunami would swamp New York City and beyond, killing millions. London, Venice and Mumbai would also become aquariums.” A more accurate headline would read: “Ocean currents connecting antarctic glaciers might accelerate their melting…


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