Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Calving" Ice Sheet Worries Top Climate Scientist

by Larry Powell - BRANDON, MB. MAR. 19-'09
A prominent climate scientist says an unforeseen phenomenon is quickly eroding the Greenland Ice Sheet.
David Barber (PinP photo - l.) is the Canada Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba and leader of the largest polar project in the world, studying climate change in the Arctic.

Prof. Barber says many scientists have believed the sheet is simply
melting as global warming takes its toll.

What is actually happening is, torrents of melt-water on the surface are finding their way down, through fissures, to the bottom.

Photo courtesy of UNEP

There, they act as "lubricants," breaking the ice apart and causing it, as he puts it to "calve" many small icebergs into the ocean at a rapid rate.

Barber believes the icebergs sliding into the sea in this way, could raise sea levels by as much as 6 meters. That's enough, he warns, to damage several large coastal cities!

He further predicts summer sea ice could be completely gone from the Canadian Arctic by as early as 2013, just four years from now!

While other projections say the ice may not disappear until 2030, actual observations his team has made, show it is melting at a rate astonishingly faster than earlier models had predicted.

In his words, "We are losing one Lake Superior (70 thousand K2) of sea ice each year. The last time we had no summer ice in the Arctic was more than a million years ago."

Prof. Barber is critical of global warming skeptics, who do not believe humans are behind the problem.

He says the connection is obvious. There was even a big jump in greenhouse gas emissions way back at the time of the industrial revolution, a clear indication of human involvement.

He believes these skeptics are simply "Trying to find an excuse for not doing something."

As for solutions, Barber believes, if there were only two choices, nuclear power (at least new and improved forms of the technology), would be better than coal as an energy source. He refers to coal as the "dirtiest" source of all.

Barber is not overly concerned that vast areas in the Arctic have been claimed by oil companies for resource development. He says development could still go ahead there, as long as it takes place at a sensible pace.

He noted that, while serving on his research vessel in the Arctic, it was consistently warmer there for a year than it was in Winnipeg!

Barber was speaking at a recent environmental conference in Brandon, Manitoba, devoted to examining ways of reducing the human footprint on our planet.

The 2-day conference, sponsored by the Assiniboine Community College, discussed ways of lessening our carbon footprint on the planet.
Topics included alternative energy and fuel-efficient cars.