Unthawing Antarctica

Last December, 2016, the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf grew by 10.5 miles.

Like a snowball released from the top of the mountain gaining momentum as it descends, Earth’s record-breaking heat is melting Antarctica at a stunning rate.

The area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica is the lowest since the inception of continuous record keeping began in 1979 and it’s still tumbling.

Last year, all signs were pointing toward this shattering event. In May, 2016, the massive West Antarctic ice sheet began tearing apart. My colleagues sounded the alarm that the melting could destabilize enormous areas of ice, resulting in global sea rise of more than 10 feet.

“We present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” NASA’s Dr. Eric Rignot said. “It has passed the point of no return.”

The only unknown is how quickly a 10-foot sea level rise will occur.

Rignot and his coauthors cautiously estimate an epic sea level rise in the coming centuries.

Eminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has spent his entire career tracking the effects of climate-altering carbon dioxide released from burning subsidized fossil fuels.

In the lead up to the Paris Climate Agreement, Hansen warned: “It’s crazy to think 2C is a safe limit.”

Man-made heat, infused into the oceans from heat-trapping fossil fuels, has doubled since 1997. That’s the equivalent energy of detonating one atomic Hiroshima-style bomb every second for 75 straight years.

“The ice sheets are losing mass faster and faster, with a doubling time of about 10 years,” Hansen said. “If that continues, we would get sea level rise of more than six feet by 40 to 50 years.”

Since 2011, the Larsen C ice shelf, West Antarctica, developed a rift of approximately 110 miles in length. Any day now it will calve an iceberg four times the size of Los Angeles.

West Antarctica’s ice sheets are irrefutably thawing. Perhaps even more worrisome is what’s occurring on the other half of the continent. East Antarctic ice sheets are now showing telltale signs of a huge melt well underway.

Eight thousand dazzling superglacial lakes were revealed in August, 2016, along the Langhovde Glacier, East Antarctic, from observation taken between 2000 and 2013. Those superglacial Antarctic lakes resemble the melt-water lakes on Greenland, which is currently thawing at a much faster rate than Antarctica. Superglacial lakes influence both ice motion and ice shelf stability.

An even larger East Antarctic ice sheet, the Totten Glacier, is losing between 63 and 80 billion metric tons of ice annually or 32 feet in thickness each year. The Totten Glacier contains enough water to raise oceans globally by 11 feet.

The consequences on an 11-foot sea level rise are unimaginable. All coastal cities would become dysfunctional.

In the meantime, while the Antarctic sea ice is at an all-time low, so too are the population of Antarctic krill.

Krill are tiny crustaceans loaded with Omega 3s. They are the single most numerous creatures in the Southern Ocean. Krill feed the entire ecosystem: From seabirds to seals and penguins to the colossal filter-feeding whales.

Already, krill populations have plummeted by as much as 80 percent in the Western Antarctic Ocean. Krill require sea ice in order to survive their first winter. They feed on sea ice algae and plankton; it is central to their existence.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia detected the cascading effects of missing krill. They recorded skinnier humpback whales migrating northward to their winter calving grounds in northwestern Australia. Fewer krill directly impacts the humpbacks’ ability to reproduce. Once these magnificent monarchs of the sea leave their summer feeding grounds, they mostly fast until returning the following summer. Females must bulk up on krill, adding mega tons of blubber in order to feed calves their rich caloric milk.

In addition to vast amounts of missing Antarctic sea ice, China intends to increase its 32,000-metric-ton catch of Southern Ocean krill up to 2 million metric tons annually. This would be disastrous for all Southern Ocean marine life.

A healthy alternative to krill is hemp seeds. They are an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Please don’t eat krill, often marketed as fish oil, because it’s whale food and the climate in crisis is leveling the krill.

The only way to slow sea level rising, retain Antarctic sea ice and maintain the krill population, is to reduce fossil fuel emissions at once. Moreover, surface oceans have tripled in mercury poisoning, by as much as 80,000 metric tons, from burning coal.

We require 80 percent renewable energies by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

It’s up to each of us to prevent our only home from becoming uninhabitable.

Support Sea Shepherd Australia because they’re protecting the Southern Ocean krill.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”