Grim News From NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank Collapsing Toward Southern Ocean, At Least 15 Feet of Sea Level Rise Already Locked-in Worldwide

(Must-watch NASA presentation finding six Antarctic Glaciers in irreversible collapse.)

Human-caused heat forcing. From the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the world’s oceans, there’s no safe place to put it. For where-ever it goes it sets in place conditions with the potential to unleash gargantuan forces.

481. Minus aerosols, that’s the equivalent CO2 heat forcing humans have now built up in the atmosphere due to a constant and rapidly rising greenhouse gas emission. By itself, this heat forcing, were it to remain in the world’s atmosphere and ocean system, is enough to melt all of West Antarctica, all of Greenland, and part of East Antarctica pushing sea levels higher by between 30 and 120 feet or more.

Inertia. Namely, the massive inertia in the Earth climate system creating a perceived ability to resist rapid destabilization due to the human insult. It’s the one hope scientists and policy-makers alike pinned on the possibility of bringing human greenhouse gas emissions down in time to prevent radical and damaging change.

Rapid glacier and ice sheet destabilization. What, by 2014, became understood as the new reality, as an ever-increasing number of the world’s glaciers displayed far less resilience than previously anticipated and were set in motion to an unstoppable and catastrophic reunion with the world’s oceans by human warming.

Now, a new NASA study finds that six of West Antarctica’s largest glaciers are in a state of irreversible collapse. These add to a growing tally of destabilized glaciers from Greenland to Svalbard to Baffin Island to Antarctica and beyond which, all together, show that at least a 15 foot sea level rise from human-spurred glacial release is now inevitable.

Their names were Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler

antarctica_screen_grab1_2

(The locations of West Antarctica’s ‘butcher board’ glaciers — those that are doomed to an inevitable embrace with the Amundsen Sea. Image source: NASA.)

At issue are six massive glaciers representing more than 1/3 of total the ice mass of West Antarctica and what could well be called its entire weak flank.

As early as 1968, this massive section of West Antarctica was listed as unstable. Since that time, human heat forcing has pumped higher and higher volumes of warmth deep into the Pacific Ocean. The warmth pooled in the depths, building, even as it rose up beneath Antarctica. Ocean circulation and Ekman pumping along the coast of Antarctica brought this warm water up from the depths where it traveled along the continental shelf zone to encounter Antarctica’s mile-high glaciers. The warm water did its work, unseen, for a time. Eating away at the bottoms of these glaciers and speeding their slide to the sea. The increased glacial melt and related fresh water outflow put a kind of cold water cap on the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. This cold cap gave the ever-warming bottom waters no outlet to the surface and so the heat concentrated where it was needed least — at the bases of massive ocean-fronting glaciers.

One section of West Antarctica, composed of the six glaciers now listed as undergoing irreversible collapse, was particularly vulnerable to this basalt melt and ocean upwelling heat forcing. For the glaciers there rested on a section of continental shelf well below sea level — extending scores of miles beneath the ice and on into interior Antarctica. As a result, newly undercut glaciers are flooded until they float, creating lift, reducing friction and rapidly speeding the glacier’s plunge seaward. Even worse, few sub-glacier ridges — speed bumps that glaciologists call grounding points — interrupt the more rapid flow of these glaciers once initiated.

(NASA slide-show illustrating the process of basal melt and grounding line retreat)

By earlier this year, a separate NASA study found that the Pine Island Glacier (PIG), one of the world’s largest glaciers and the most vulnerable ice sheet in West Antarctica, had entered a state of irreversible collapse. Now, the most recent study, led by glaciologist Eric Rignot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, finds that five of its fellows — Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler — are following PIG’s lead.

Rignot’s findings could not be more stark:

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable. The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

In other words, over the course of decades-to-centuries, these glaciers will disintegrate and slide into the sea until they are no more. Years from now, their names will be a distant memory, reminders of a faded and far better time.

At Least 15 Feet of Sea Level Rise From Glacial Melt Now Locked-in

This year, the pace of new announcements for massive glaciers undergoing destabilization or irreversible collapse could best be described as terrifying and unprecedented. And each new announcement brings with it starker implications for both the ultimate pace and scope of global sea level rise.

Global sea level rise

(Current pace of global sea level rise at 3.26 mm per year is likely now set to rapidly accelerate coincident with the rapid acceleration and melt of an ever-increasing number of the world’s glaciers. Image source: AVISO.)

The amount of sea level rise to result from just the loss of the disintegrating section of West Antarctica described in the most recent NASA study amounts to at least four feet. But looking around the world we also find rapid destabilization of more than 13 glaciers encircling all of Greenland with one, the Zacharie Glacier, featuring an ice flow that stretches all the way to the center of the Greenland ice mass. Recent studies also find that the massive glaciers of Baffin Island and the world’s largest ice cap — the Austfonna glacier on Svalbard’s island of Nordaustlandet — are all locked in an inevitable seaward rush.

The total water composed in the moving and destabilized glaciers worldwide is now at least enough to raise world ocean levels by a total of 15 feet. But the inevitable loss of these glaciers tells a darker tale, one that hints that the 23 feet worth of sea level rise in all of Greenland’s ice and the 11-13 feet of sea level rise in all of West Antarctica’s ice may well be locked in to what is a growing daisy chain of explosive destabilization if human greenhouse gas levels aren’t radically drawn down.

In continuing to emit greenhouse gasses, we make the situation ever worse by imposing a heightening heat pressure on glacial systems that will both speed their release and ensure that an ever growing portion of the Earth’s ice ultimately melts. The current forcing though both extreme and dangerous is small compared to the potential forcing should we not rapidly reign in the human emission.

Links:

Must-Read NASA Study Showing Six of West Antarctica’s Glaciers in Irreversible Collapse

NASA Video: Antarctic Collapse Explained

Nature: Human Warming Now Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet into the Ocean

Constant Arctic Heatwave Sends World’s Largest Ice Cap Hurtling Seaward

Doomed Pine Island Glacier Releases Guam-Sized Iceberg into Southern Ocean

Scientists: Warming Ocean, Upwelling to Make an End to Antarctica’s Vast Pine Island Glacier

NASA/UC Study: Warming Ocean Found to Melt Ice Sheets From Below

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 CO2e

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair and Colorado Bob

 

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85 Comments

  1. Andy (at work)

     /  May 13, 2014

    Watching the santa ana wind fueled fire in a residential area about 5 miles from work here in SD. Bit early in the season for that.

    Reply
    • We have 68 degree temps in the Mackenzie delta right now.

      Reply
      • 68 is so far out of wack for that area. We would see 68 in Hay River in July / August 30+ years ago. Inuvik (near delta) wouldn’t see 68.

        Since it is entering melt season there will not really be any refreeze. The river will be getting a real bad hit. The ice roads will be closed including ice bridges that service remote communities.
        Transit to Tuk would be open to shipping early, except for the inability for the boats to get there from the Synchro in Hay River (river needs to clear). It should reduce the chance for an epic discharge out of the delta into the ocean (this is good). Fire danger will increase through the NWT. There will be less absorption in the land, more run off.

        Reply
        • Next four days remain above freezing for the region. After that we get a cool snap that brings back the upper 20s and low 30s. Overall, very warm for this time of year. As you say, June/July temps in May.

  2. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    The elevation of my town on the Columbia River is 20 ft. Anyone have a houseboat they’d like to sell?

    Reply
  3. My parents live in Virginia Beach. I’ve been trying to convince them to move.

    Reply
  4. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    Four-Star Warning: Generals Dub Climate Change a Security Risk

    A new report from a panel of former Pentagon leaders calls climate change a direct threat to national security and the U.S. economy, as extreme weather stands to stretch troops thin, spark unrest in unstable regions, and unravel global networks of trade and resources.

    The authors –- 16 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals who compose the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) — blame a warming planet for, in part, aggravating tensions among some nations.

    Their study, released Tuesday night, dubs climate change “a catalyst for conflict” against a backdrop of increasingly decentralized power structures around the world.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/weather/four-star-warning-generals-dub-climate-change-security-risk-n104751

    Reply
    • In my view, certainly a catalyst for conflict when it comes to Russia.

      Those denying climate change are leaving us wide open to a host of national security issues. What’s the readiness status of a nation engaged in almost continuous disaster relief?

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 14, 2014

        ” a nation engaged in almost continuous disaster relief? ”

        Several hundred million people lined up to claim that title first.

        Reply
        • I suppose it’s a headline we’ll be seeing or writing soon.

          Looks like that major flood event in Southeast China has abated a little. Rather large storms sweeping over Russia now. Though I still see large fires popping.

  5. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    One of the most important glaciology papers ever written. I think it it the most important.

    West Antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster (January 26, 1978)

    https://courses.seas.harvard.edu/climate/eli/Courses/global-change-debates/Sources/18-West-Antarctic-ice-sheets/nature_mercer_1978_wais.pdf

    Reply
    • Amazing paper. What just kills me is we’ve known about this for decades and decades and still haven’t managed to overcome monied interests standing directly in the way of solutions.

      Reply
      • And when it comes to the monied interests, taking out the banks would be child’s play compared to taking out the fossil-fuel interests. All that’s needed is to not bail out the banks the next time they create a crisis… IF our Senators and Representatives have the courage and willpower, HAHAHA.

        Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    Ocean winds keep Antarctica cold, Australia dry

    “The Southern Ocean winds are now stronger than at any other time in the past 1,000 years,” Abram said.
    “The strengthening of these winds has been particularly prominent over the past 70 years, and by combining our observations with climate models we can clearly link this to rising greenhouse gas levels.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140511165515.htm

    Reply
    • And they’ve shifted south. I think you posted the paper about the southern jet shifting from 40 south to 50 south.

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  May 14, 2014

        That’s a huge shift in the southern jet. Is it more or less locked into that location?

        Reply
        • Mostly. But it’s starting to take on the mangled characteristics seen in the north. Lots of high amplitude patterns in the more recent Autumn shots.

    • Have you seen anything related to food security recently? The FAO index is slightly down in April to 209.3. Not much improvement, but something.

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 14, 2014

        NPR ran a story on relaxing beef imports from Brazil, to drive down beef prices. Just caught part of it.

        Reply
        • The floods seen over past weeks in some regions appear to be helping a bit. That said, India is looking rather dry. Hoping this year’s monsoon isn’t disrupted.

  7. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    The dip in the chart above ( Image source: AVISO.) has an interesting explanation .

    A unique and complex set of circumstances came together over Australia from 2010 to 2011 to cause Earth’s smallest continent to be the biggest contributor to the observed drop in global sea level rise during that time, finds a new study co-authored and co-funded by NASA.

    In 2011, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Colorado at Boulder reported that between early 2010 and summer 2011, global sea level fell sharply, by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter. Using data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft, they showed that the drop was caused by the very strong La Nina that began in late 2010. That La Nina changed rainfall patterns all over our planet, moving huge amounts of Earth’s water from the ocean to the continents. The phenomenon was short-lived, however.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130821144831.htm

    Reply
  8. This is generally consistent with the ‘Back to the Pliocene’ model for global warming. In which 2-3K higher temperatures go along with the loss of the WAIS, shrinkage of the EAIS and the loss of most if not all of the GIS, with 25m higher sea levels.

    This is generally backed by paleogeographic evidence; the main uncertainty involved is the rate at which we move towards such a world. And the nature of the change itself, because in one aspect – namely the amount of disequlibrium – current warming is unique.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliocene_climate

    Reply
  9. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    And in a piece in The Guardian on the scramble for Arctic resources this morning: “As the Arctic becomes less of an ice-contaminated area……”
    General Paul Kern

    Apoplexy, anyone?

    Reply
    • Oh, the Brits have been quite self destructive lately with their language of ‘solar blight’ and ‘ice contamination.’ I suppose they’ll be calling the next wave of weather bombs a ‘storm boon.’

      Reply
  10. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    A friend replies to my above: The mid-latitudes are becoming a less grain contaminated area?

    Reply
  11. Harry

     /  May 14, 2014

    Thank you for your prolific, high-quality output, Robert. It is a fantastic resource.

    Reply
  12. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    Shift in Antarctic Winds Drives “Collapse” of Glaciers
    Melting of glaciers is accelerated by stronger winds, scientists say.

    The “unstoppable collapse” of glaciers in West Antarctica announced by scientists this week has one key cause: shifting winds. Stronger winds are pushing warm water under coastal glaciers and melting them. The process is expected to intensify in the coming decades.

    Two research papers published Monday found that six major glaciers along the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica are thinning more rapidly than expected and contributing to sea-level rise. Warm water is coming into contact with the bottom of the glaciers as they hang over the edge of the ocean and/or as they “float” over bedrock that is below sea level. (Read “Rising Seas” in National Geographic magazine.)

    “Exactly how the warmer waters got there is still somewhat under discussion,” says Richard Alley, a professor of Earth sciences at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in either paper but who has studied glaciers extensively.

    Link

    Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  May 14, 2014

    Tens of Thousands of Reindeer Die of Extreme Weather in Russia’s North

    More than 60,000 reindeer died of starvation over winter and spring in the far northern Yamal-Nenets autonomous district, the regional governor’s office said.

    The high mortality rate is likely to have been caused by extreme weather conditions in the Arctic region, such as heavy rain and snow, which made it more difficult for the deer to feed themselves, the statement said, Interfax reported Tuesday.

    A operation is now underway to herd the reindeers to greener pastures, though many of the animals may be too weak to travel, the statement said.

    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/tens-of-thousands-of-reindeer-die-of-extreme-weather-in-russias-north/500060.html

    Reply
    • 70 north is emerging as a major weather battle line. The Arctic is fighting to the last.

      Reply
    • This is what I jotted down about climate change outpacing the ability of species to mutate and adjust. Thereby causing a population collapse during the change, it only stops when the rate of change stabilizes. The arctic food chain is recalibrating as best as it can, which is not very well. The followup will be a reduction in the parasitic insect population, which feeds birds. Carnivores will feel this as well.

      The base grasses are a lynchpin for the entire food chain in the area.

      Reply
  14. Mark from New England

     /  May 14, 2014

    Not directly related to Antarctica or melting glaciers, but I did a double-take when checking the national weather map and forecast in today’s paper. Most of California is forecast to be in the 90s today, with LA with a high of 99, San Diego at 94, San Fran at 90 and even Portland, Oregon at 89.

    Is this way above normal for the west coast in mid-May? If it’s this hot in May out there, what’s July going to be like?

    Reply
  15. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    Mark from New England (NH’s home for me) From Weather Underground . Van Nuys Airport Today Thurs. Friday hi/lo forecast: 99/67 101/68 97/64 Avg. 75/53

    Reply
    • That set is extraordinary. +26 F! Watch out summer of 2014.

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  May 14, 2014

        Robert,

        Don’t worry – I’m no Republican! I’m a left-leaning Independent and vote accordingly. I’d love to see Bernie Sanders run just to inject some sanity into the process. Last time I voted for a Republican was McCain in the 2000 primary, in an attempt to keep Bush at bay. That didn’t work out too well! And that was before McCain lost his mind… It’s sad, because he was strong on environmental protection before the Tea Party came along and pushed the Republicans to the far, far right.

        Reply
        • See, even McCain is a captive to the party. If he voices his opinions on climate change and doesn’t haul the Koch/Fossil Fuel party line, he gets cut off at the knees in the primary. If he switches parties or goes independent, he risks getting buried in a red state.

          My problem with republicans is not all republicans, it’s the controlling factors that force them to serve such destructive interests or risk near-certain exile.

          If McCain had a modicum of integrity he would turn and bite the hand of this harmful political force and take the consequences of being a moral man, whatever they may be. Instead, he’s in the Hanoi Hilton all over again.

        • In any case, I’m less concerned about you being a republican and more concerned about a general re-sympathy with the republican/conservative brand. Look what’s happening in England — ‘solar blight’ and ‘ice contaminated’ — that’s conservative double-speak if I’ve ever seen it!

    • Mark from New England

       /  May 14, 2014

      Kevin,

      A fellow New Hampshire-ite! I live in Nashua, after moving north from CT to MA and now here. Where are you? Perhaps we can join up to convince Senator Kelly Ayotte to break with her fellow Republicans in obstructing action on climate change. I have a sneaking suspicion she’ll be a prime candidate for the VP position come 2016. It’d be great to ‘flip her’ before then. I have yet to look into her sources of campaign funding, though I have my suspicions.

      Reply
      • Republicans have a long way to go before I’d ever trust them on climate change. Either they’ve talked a good game (Bush) and sabotaged actual action or they’ve outright denied the existence of an obvious and growing problem. In comparison I have the solid policies of the Solar Shot initiative, major CAFE standard increases, regulating CO2 emissions and other policy progress standards put forward by the Obama Administration. Had the Republicans not obstructed, we would have even stronger policy measures.

        Republicans and mainstream media have done a great job propagandizing the actions of the Obama administration to make them appear ineffective but, despite all the broad-ranging static and mind fogging, we will install 6 gigawatts of solar power this year, about 8 times that seen in 2008 after Bush.

        My view is, if you want to see that number fall, put more Republicans in office. Sympathy and irrational giving of second chances to Republicans, in my view, is more a kind of capture bonding or Stockholm Syndrome. They’ll wreck things all over again and they’ll do it worse this time.

        Reply
    • There is a santa ana wind which is driving the bulk of this, which will be abating over the weekend. It is a dry high wind event coming from the deserts (nevada / arizona ). A bit unseasonal though.

      I’m curious if the changes with the height being reached by air temperature deltas may play into this, if not now but in the future.

      Reply
  16. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    Robert, All. Re: blocking patterns, Have you checked the jet stream today at climatereanalyzer.com Looks as extreme as I’ve noticed all winter.

    Reply
  17. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    cci-reanalyzer.org/ Sorry. New at this….. Robert. Isn’t the jet stream ‘supposed’ to be relaxing and weakening by this time of year?

    Reply
    • The high amplitude wave pattern is extreme. A ring of east-west dipoles.

      Reply
    • I wouldn’t call this a ‘strong’ Jet Stream. A strong Jet would be divided north-south between hot and cold. It would be a relatively flat line and it would be high velocity. We have one of three — high velocity for spring time. Otherwise the Jet is a mangled mess of Rossby type waves and cut off systems.

      Reply
  18. Gerald Spezio

     /  May 14, 2014

    “Watch out summer of 2014.”

    AMEN.

    Reply
  19. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    Robert. Mark from New England. There is a bi-partisan, (I’d favor non-partisan) anti-corruption movement brewing in this first-in-the-nation primary state. For some of its’ members there’s a belief that to deal as best as we can at this late date with what I call the Triple E crises: Environment Economy Energy a nation-wide housecleaning is required. I know, I know. Some call it a moonshot. Be happy to share contact info Mark and talk anytime. How do we do this with privacy issues? Thanks

    Reply
    • Clean out everyone except liberal progressives and true independents ala Sanders.

      Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  May 14, 2014

      Kevin,

      Yes, I agree with you about not putting contact information here in the blog. Robert, is there a way for Kevin and me, or people in general who may live close to each other, to connect via this website?

      Reply
      • You can briefly post your contact info and I’ll delete it.

        In general, I see the greater influence of large corporations such as oil companies to be primarily conservative/republican blame due to their failures RE Citizen’s United and campaign finance. Their ideology pushed for the situation we’re in now and so we have it.

        Reply
  20. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    Thanks Robert and, Go Bernie!

    Reply
  21. Kevin Jones

     /  May 14, 2014

    Got it Mark. You’re great, Robert!

    Reply
  22. pintada

     /  May 14, 2014

    On topic –
    You know, as sea level rises, it puts incredible force on the glacier in the upward direction. If there is a mile of ice above sea level, and only a few feet below, it doesn’t matter. If however, there is a point where the glacier is nearly balanced, a few inches of sea level rise can float a vast area of ice. That mechanism would then raise sea level abruptly and do the same thing to another nearly floating glacier. Which would …

    In that scenario, never mind melting. I don’t know how much ice is just balanced. Probably no one does.

    Re Politics –
    This article shows that the US (and likely Britain) are no longer anything like democracies:
    https://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf

    There was a Paul Krugman quote as well, but he was probably just parroting the study.

    I vote a straight democrat ticket, but have had the feeling for some time that it is a waste of “effort”.

    Reply
    • Too much corporate influence. If we want democracy, we need to get the corporations out of politics.

      Reply
      • Fully agree –
        …the phrases, “corporate contamination of Democracy” and “corporate-contaminated Democracy” should enter our vocabulary to mean:
        – a corruption in local, state, and national electoral processes,
        – an excessive and damaging influence in our media and educational system,
        – an excessive and damaging influence in domestic and foreign policy
        – and much, much more, but that’s a reasonable start…

        Don’t want to turn this excellent and informative website into a political forum, but I read the above phrases elsewhere and thought it worthy of sharing, here.

        Reply
      • @plemun222:

        Well the worst of corporate influence has been with us since the 1920s, even the First World War, through the Manufacture Of Consent, which turned democracy in the US from something participatory into something to be passively consumed (preferably in front of a TV) and then vote for Brand X Candidate of your “choice”.

        Reply
  23. pintada

     /  May 14, 2014

    Sorry, I miss-spoke:
    Since the glacier is at near equilibrium, when it floated, sea level would not rise (much). But, any force that it was exerting to hold the ice upstream would instantly be significantly reduced.

    Reply
    • This set of forces is one of the major factors speeding up the vulnerable West Antarctica glaciers. A grounded submerged glacier doesn’t contribute much to sea level rise, but a floating, melting one does (displaces more water). In addition, the loss of the edge ice causes the interior glaciers to slide seaward with much higher velocity.

      Reply
  24. 3 fires now within 30 miles of my house here in SD. The closest is ~5 miles away @ 1680 acres. The winds are picking up quite a bit now too (these Santa Ana’s are kicking up the wind in the afternoon). I-5 just north of Oceanside is closed for N Bound traffic. Temp is 97 degrees on my patio. Apparently small fires popping up off of I-8 as well.

    Reply
  25. My guess is that 15 feet looks a bit like 45 feet after a decade or so. but yea, still takes some 300 years so nothing for oily politicians who look for campaign funding.

    Reply
    • Depends on how hard we keep pushing things. 3-10 feet under BAU seems likely this century.

      Oily politicians obviously don’t care how much damage occurs.

      Reply
    • jyyh

       /  May 16, 2014

      This new by the way means the gravitatitional effect of the large glaciers isn’t going to help northern hemisphere coastal cities at all.

      Reply
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