September 28, 2009

Using Technology To Determine Climate Change’s Melting Impact

Scientists are taking a more in-depth view of how climate change could affect Antarctica's ice, and how even a small change in temperature could lead to a global rise in sea levels.

"If you're going to have even a few meters it will change the geography of the planet," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told Reuters.

"Greenland and Antarctica are two huge bodies of ice sitting on land that could really have very serious implications for the levels of the seas," said Pachauri.

Scientists are looking to technology in their search for more definitive answers. Equipped with a fleet of radars, submergible unmanned monitoring tools and drills.

If Antarctica's ice were to completely melt, it would result in a rise in sea levels by 57 meters. Additionally, Greenland's ice could add another 7 meters

Scientists are in a race against time to get more answers about how climate change could affect polar ice before the beginning of a global discussion on the issue in Copenhagen in December.

World leaders are expected to meet in Copenhagen in order to construct a plan to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

However, scientists say they are in a tough position because they haven't been able to monitor Antarctic and Greenland ice for long enough to know exactly what could be on the horizon.

They are studying the edges of the ice, where it comes in contact with the Southern Ocean. Researchers told Reuters about 10 ice shelves have collapsed on the Antarctic Peninsula in the past 50 years.

"It's the underside of the ice sheets that's crucial," said David Carlson, a scientist who headed the International Polar Year from 2007-08.

Some are looking to history for answers. Researchers have found that temperatures were slightly higher in the Eemian about 125,000 years ago, when the sea level was about 4 meters higher than current levels.

"We need to know where the extra four meters came from," David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), told Reuters.

Vaughn noted that one study that will drill through about 3 kilometers of ice could provide new clues.

An international study on the Greenland ice sheet set the record for single-season deep ice-core drilling this summer. The researchers came up with more than one mile of ice core in the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) project, which led by the University of Copenhagen and involved 14 nations.

"Every time we drill a new ice core, we learn a lot more about how Earth's climate functions," said Jim White, of the University of Colorado-Boulder, who is leading the US research contingent.

"The Eemian period is the best analog we have for future warming on Earth."

The team hopes to hit bedrock at 8,350 feet at the end of next summer, reaching ice deposited during the warm Eemian period that lasted from roughly 130,000 to 120,000 years ago before the planet began to cool and ice up once again.

"Evidence from ancient ice cores tell us that when greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, the climate warms," said White.

"And when the climate warms, ice sheets melt and sea levels rise. If we see comparable rises in sea level in the future like we have seen in the ice-core record, we can pretty much say good-bye to American coastal cities like Miami, Houston, Norfolk, New Orleans and Oakland."


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