Ice in the sun

by Gareth on January 15, 2008

Time for an ice update. There’s more bad news about the Arctic sea ice, some interesting video from Greenland, and confirmation that the Antarctic is losing significant amounts of ice. A team lead by James Maslanik of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Astrodynamics Research has tracked the age of perennial Arctic sea ice (the stuff that survives through summer), and found that since the 1980s the ice has become thinner and younger. Of the ice that survived last year’s melt back, 58% is thin and only 2 to 3 years old:

The portion of ice more than five years old within the multi-year Arctic icepack decreased from 31 percent in 1988 to 10 percent in 2007, according to the study. Ice 7 years or older, which made up 21 percent of the multi-year Arctic ice cover in 1988, made up only 5 percent in 2007, the research team reported. [Science Daily, UC release]

This sets the Arctic up for more rapid ice loss, and makes it much harder for the sea ice to recover to its historic size. Meanwhile, Andy Revkin at the New York Times describes what’s been happening in Greenland [you might have to register, but it's worth it]. The video from a camera being lowered down a moulin is amazing. That’s our world going down the gurgler (as I said at the HT launch). More from Revkin (and more video) at his Dot Earth blog supporting the article.

In our neck of the woods the news isn’t flash, either. A new study confirms that Antarctica has been losing ice over the last 10 years, and finds that the rate of loss has increased by 75% over that time [Herald]. The East Antarctic ice sheet remains more or less stable, but the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula are losing significant amounts of ice mass – a total of 192 billion tonnes of ice in 2006. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the mass loss is down to increased glacier flow:

Changes in glacier dynamics are significant and may in fact dominate the ice sheet mass budget. This conclusion is contrary to model simulations of the response of the ice sheet to future climate change, which conclude that it will grow due to increased snowfall.

The Christian Science Monitor provides a good overview of what’s going on south of us here.

Meanwhile, to quote a Prebble, I’ve been thinking, and before too long I shall blog about the implications of what’s happening in the Arctic. More questions than answers – but perhaps we can start thinking about how to get the answers we need. More soon…

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Bloom January 16, 2008 at 3:54 am

Do you think there might be some polar cities sites in NZ? In high hills or mountains? Where? Can you help me identify some good locations there?



Danny Bloom January 16, 2008 at 4:05 am

I have received about 25 emails today from people interested in serving as volunteers at the first model Polar City in Longyearbyen. Gizmodo was the first news agency to release the news worldwide. First of all, I want to explain to everyone here that you should look on the entire polar cities project as a “non-threatening thought experiment” about the future. Two, it is food for thought, not a government project or a conspiracy of rich people to hide away in the future in their own sustainable retreats.
Thought experiment, first. Thought exercise. Global warming is for real. Whether humankind will ever really need polar cities is just speculation, conjecture, and nobody can see the future. I recently emailed this news to James Lovelock the UK scientist who is at the forefront of climate change research, and he emailed me back, saying:
“Thanks for the images, Danny. It may very well happen and soon.”
Lovelock said that, not me.

see blog here:
Google: “polar cities”

Meanwhile, here are some of the letters I got this morning:

1. Hello, I just read an article about your ‘Polar City’. My fiance and I would like to volunteer to be residents. I think our backgrounds would make us excellent candidates for the project. We are young
professionals looking to start a family in the near future. We’ve already discussed traveling with our future child/children and would like to expose them to as much as possible, this would seem like a
great opportunity. I have an extensive background in computer work and the visual arts. I’m currently the Creative Director for a small but success marketing firm, providing plenty of experience leading and
inspiring others as well as maintaing IT equipment. My fiance is a nurse so the added benefits there are obvious. Please let me know if you have any questions.

2. was just reading about the Polar City project and it is all very interesting. I was wondering if there is a process for volunteering as an experimental resident. I am currently 22 years old and have lived
in Florida for most of my life. Living in a climate that is tropical (and often very hot) during global warming makes me think a lot about the future and how population patterns will change. I’ve always been
interested in traveling and meeting people from all over the world. More information would be great.

3. I found out about your project via Gizmodo and we are very interested in it. Our company runs several blogs in Spanish for the spanish comunity (mainly Mexico, Chile and Spain). I would really apreciate it
if you would be kind enough to allow us to interview you either by email or by video chat. In the event that you would be willing to give us an interview (in English) for our environmental blog , I will put
our reporter in contact with you.

4. I would be interested in getting [more information on the qualifying requirements or procedures in being able to participate to be a volunteer resident at one of your model polar cities?

5. Hi Danny,
Great job on the Polar Cities material. Saw it today on the news sites. I was just telling my wife last week that I wish there was some way to a:) get affordable housing in Longyearben and b.) have a “green” home in the polar regions. I work for a distributed company, so I can live anywhere in the world. Living in one of these polar cities model research sites would be very fun for us (and our small child). I wish you the best with this project.”

More news on this project will soon be released at the New York Times and other news outlets worldwide. Again, please bear in mind that this is a thought experiment set up to sound the alarm about what COULD happen in the future IF we don’t take steps now to MITIGATE climate change. Polar cities, also called sustainable population retreats, SPRs, MIGHT become a needed ADAPTATION strategy. The time to think about them is NOW.

Good thing I have a sense of humour. And good thing I am an optimist.
James Lovelock is too, you know.

gareth January 16, 2008 at 9:53 am

Hi Danny,

NZ’s not really very “polar”, and I’m not sure we’d want to build any cities in the Southern Alps. I do think that NZ is a good place to ride out climate change, though. My preferred vision is rather more rural and “local” than urban and dense. We have the room for that…

Danny Bloom January 16, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Hi Gareth,
Thanks note. Yes, I think NZ will be good place to ride out glo war events. I was thinking not so much of real CITIES, big ugly things, as rural retreats, communes, where survivors might pass on their genes for maybe 30 generations, if it comes to that, and the high hills and mountains of NZ, like Alaska, might be good for this. POLAR does not mean “cold” in 2500, just a position on Earth near the poles. I am thinking of creating a Second Life model commune called “PolarSphere”. Want to come aboard as resident?

Yes, we are gathering a team of virtual volunteers now, and the first
model city will be built online at Second City. As applications come
in, we will go over them and assign each team member a work station in
our Second City model polar city, and let the experiment begin. Yes.
As soon as I get more details, I will email you. Leave a message for
me at reporter.bloom AT gmail

Looking forward to having you on board.


PS: Gareth, are the newspapers there in NZ doing a good job covering global warming issues, pro and con? Do you know names of any good reporters I might contact there re a story about polar retreat communes in NZ in 2500 or so, maybe 2121?


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