Antarctic Dispatches is a three-part series from the seventh continent. Written by Justin Gillis. We went to Antarctica to understand how changes to its vast ice sheet might affect the world. New York Times.
Miles of Ice Collapsing Into the Sea Part 1 May 18, 2017
The acceleration is making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration….
Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate….
Remote as Antarctica may seem, every person in the world who gets into a car, eats a steak or boards an airplane is contributing to the emissions that put the frozen continent at risk. If those emissions continue unchecked and the world is allowed to heat up enough, scientists have no doubt that large parts of Antarctica will melt into the sea.
But they do not know exactly what the trigger temperature might be, or whether the recent acceleration of the ice means that Earth has already reached it. The question confronting society, said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, is easier to ask than to answer: “How hot is too hot?”…
Looming Floods, Cities Threatened Part 2 May 19, 2017
The risk is clear: Antarctica’s collapse has the potential to inundate coastal cities across the globe.
Over tens of millions of years, thin layers of snow falling on the continent — in many places, just a light dusting every year — were pressed into ice, burying mountain ranges and building an ice sheet more than two miles thick. Under its own weight, that ice flows downhill in slow-moving streams that eventually drop icebergs into the sea.
If that ice sheet were to disintegrate, it could raise the level of the sea by more than 160 feet — a potential apocalypse, depending on exactly how fast it happened. Recent research suggests that if society burns all the fossil fuels known to exist, the collapse of the ice sheet will become inevitable.
Improbable as such a large rise might sound, something similar may have already happened, and recently enough that it is still lodged in collective memory.
In the 19th century, ethnographers realized that virtually every old civilization had some kind of flood myth in its literature.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, waters so overwhelm the mortals that the gods grow frightened, too. In India’s version, Lord Vishnu warns a man to take refuge in a boat, carrying seeds. In the Bible, God orders Noah to carry two of every living creature on his ark.
“I don’t think the biblical deluge is just a fairy tale,” said Terence J. Hughes, a retired University of Maine glaciologist living in South Dakota. “I think some kind of major flood happened all over the world, and it left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of mankind that got preserved in these stories.”