Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent

Science journalist Gabrielle Walker’s book Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent (Bloomsbury, 2012) tells an absorbing story of the wide variety of scientific work undertaken in Antarctica and the support services that maintain it. It also attempts to capture the human fascination of the continent, not least for the author herself in her five sojourns there. She provides close-up observations of some of the specialist teams working on an array of investigations: penguins, seals, under-ice sea creatures, meteorites, astronomy, paleoclimatology, the dynamics of ice movement and loss, and more. Stories of the early explorers find a place, and the psychology which motivates people to undertake sometimes long scientific enterprises in such a demanding environment.   Her book is striking and highly readable, often gripping.

It’s the climate change aspects of the book that I want to highlight here. Walker, who has a strong academic science background, specialises in energy and climate change. She co-authored a book on climate change with Sir David King a few years ago. I reviewed it at the time. Her knowledgeable familiarity with the subject is often in evidence in Antarctica.

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TDB today: Goodbye coastline – we are beyond the point of no return

In which I pull together the strands of the recent bad news from Antarctica and Greenland, and lament the loss of the coastline we all grew up with — no longer a theoretical possibility but a long term certainty. Check out Goodbye coastline – we are beyond the point of no return, this week’s post at The Daily Blog, and start planning for all our watery futures.

PIG and pals pass point of no return – West Antarctic ice melt inevitable

Two new papers published this week suggest that the West Antarctic glaciers draining into the Amundsen Sea — the Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler glaciers — are melting rapidly and are now committed to collapse, adding up to 1.2 metres to future sea level rise. In the NASA JPL video above, Eric Rignot, lead author of a paper1 examining how the glaciers’ “grounding lines” — the point where the bottom of the glacial ice leaves the bedrock and starts to float — have retreated very significantly over the last 20 years explains how they are now melting back unstoppably. Another paper modelling ice loss from the Thwaites glacier 2 finds that it is committed to retreat and collapse via the same mechanism. Lead author Ian Joughin of the University of Washington, told Science magazine:

The next stable state for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might be no ice sheet at all…

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  1. E. Rignot, J. Mouginot, M. Morlighem, H. Seroussi, B. Scheuchl. Widespread, rapid grounding line retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith and Kohler glaciers, West Antarctica from 1992 to 2011. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060140 []
  2. Ian Joughin, Benjamin E. Smith, Brooke Medley. Marine Ice Sheet Collapse Potentially Underway for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica, Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1249055. []

Richard Alley: what we know now…

In this talk, recorded at the American Geophysical Union’s Chapman Conference on Climate Communication in Colorado recently, Richard Alley gives his overview of what we know about the state of the climate. As you might expect, he covers the cryosphere in some detail (why Greenland may not be as big a worry as West Antarctica), but he also has interesting things to say about climate sensitivity (same as it ever was), food production, and the possibility that chunks of the planet may become too hot for humans. Well worth watching…

Check out the other talks from the conference, all up at the AGU’s Youtube channel. I’m planning to catch up with the talks by Mike Mann, Steve Lewandowsky, Jeff Masters and Gavin Schmidt — when I can find the time.

[Hat tip to Greenland’s very own videographer, Peter Sinclair — who also gave a talk at the conference.]

The Climate Show #32: a Cook’s tour of the Aussie heat

At long last: John Cook from Skeptical Science rejoins the Climate Show team for the first show of 2013. He hooks up with Glenn and Gareth to review Australia’s big heatwave, and stays around to dig into the new Greenpeace report on dirty energy, discuss Obama’s inauguration speech and Boris Johnson’s climate blunder, the latest scary news on sea level rise and the implications for the future. Plus much much more…

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

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