Is Rhett Butler telling Scarlet O’Hara “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn about global warming.”? For many years, scientists have been monitoring the loss of ice in Antarctica, particularly in Western Antarctica. Theories on global warming and man-made climate change have been popular, but some new studies are pointing to other factors. Is Antarctica unstable geologically? Are there large underwater channels that are playing a role? Or, are the glaciers being blown off the sub-continent, literally ‘Gone with the Wind’? Yesterday’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, of all places, seems to be looking seriously at these new hypothesis.

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Are Winds Causing Antarctic Ice Loss?
Image Source: NASA.gov

Through use of satellite imagery and annual photographic surveys from high-flying aircraft, new data is emerging. Which is leading Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado to rethink the problem. Two major ice shelves have collapsed over the years. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and another along the Antarctic Peninsula are showing significant ice loss since 1995. Glaciers known as Larsen A and Larsen B have shown the most loss. Larsen A is completely gone and Larsen B is down to a fraction, clinging on to the Larsen C ice shelf. Between 2001 and 2006, some 30% of all Peninsula ice, about 12 gigatons per year, are vanishing.

The loss of Larsen A is causing other glaciers to also shed ice, such as the Drygalski and Crane glaciers. South of these glaciers, we find the Pine Island Glacier is losing some 19 cubic miles of ice per year. Bob Bindschalder, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is seeing signs of a more complex interaction between wind, underground waters and oceans with the ice. Analysis of data from LandSat and other observations indicate that when surface winds are strong enough, the wind actually stirs up the ocean, lifting warmer water up long the coastline. This destabilizing effect by the wind may be a major culprit in the ice loss. Bindschalder says “In short, ice shelves are affected by what strong winds are doing. As Antarctic Circumpolar winds continue to increase, ice shelves are at increasing risk.”

Another glaciologist at the Goddard Center, Michael Studinger, is also taking a closer look at the ice loss of the Pine Island Glacier. As project scientist for NASA’s ‘Operation IceBridge’, a program for annual aerial surveys which began last year, the data is already showing that there may be an underground channel of warm water causing problems. This channel is allowing warm water to reach what is called a ‘grounding line’, destabilizing the glacier.

So is the answer, my friend, blowing in the wind? Could the wind and underground water channels be the primary cause of the loss of glacier ice in Antarctica? More so than from man-made global warming/climate change? Who can say? The new evidence seems to point to a more complex world scientists have not factored for. Of course, if Media Matters or George Soros were sending me a regular check, I would jump all over the dates mentioned in the American Geophysical Union meeting. 1995? The year Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House and a Republican majority! 2001 – 2006? George W. Bush, who else? Plus Bush had Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But then I’d have to somehow account for data from last year, 2009, discovered through NASA’s Operation IceBridge. The sea levels are still climbing and that wind keeps on a blowing even with Barack Hussein Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the show. Oh well, George Soros may feel free to still send me a check, anyway.

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