An Upheaval at the Ends of the World ~ The Atlantic

Penguins waddling ashore
Penguins come ashore in Neko Harbour on the Antarctic PeninsulaALEXANDRE MENEGHINI / REUTERS
It was not so long ago—only 108 years, within a great grandma’s memory—that a person’s eyes first beheld the South Pole. When Roald Amundsen made it to the bottom of the world in 1911, it marked a new chapter in the human story. Our curious, inventive, and adaptable species, born on the sunny savannah, had reached that last spot of remote desolation on our home planet.

Little did we know that less than a century later, the hustle and bustle of our society would alter that ancient landscape forever.

The pristine environments at both poles of the Earth are changing, perhaps irreversibly, according to a new pair of federal studies. On Monday, a new nasa report warned that ancient glaciers in Antarctica are “waking up” and beginning to dump ice into the sea, which could eventually raise sea levels.

The following day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its new Arctic Report Card, which finds that the top of the world is also thawing, melting, and breaking down. The Arctic is undergoing a period of “record and near-record warmth unlike any period on record,” the report says.

Emily Osborne, a scientist who leads Arctic research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, repeated this warning while speaking at a major geoscience conference on Tuesday. “The Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history,” she said.


The new finding may complicate that conclusion. Using a new database of global ice movements, NASA scientists found that several glaciers in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are quickening their march toward the sea. Since 2008, a set of glaciers that feed Vincennes Bay—which is due south of Australia—lost about 9 feet of overall height. Their speed has also increased, suggesting that these glaciers are dumping more ice into the ocean than researchers previously expected.

The Vincennes Bay glaciers are important because they block the inland Aurora and Wilkes ice basins from tumbling into the sea. If both basins collapsed, they could raise sea levels by 92 feet. “Taken together, they’re about four Greenlands [worth of sea-level rise],” said Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at NASA, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Monday.


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