Until recently, whenever climate research organizations reported increases in Arctic Sea ice melt rates, advocates of global “cooling” were making references to the Antarctic continent as supposed counter evidence — the world’s bastion of stability.

No longer.

Based on a combination of ground stations and satellite observations, NASA/GISS reports a mean temperature increase of +0.12 degrees C per-decade for the entire continent of Antarctica, and +0.17 degrees C per-decade for west Antarctica during 1957-2006. Some area in east Antarctica have been cooling, a likely result of accelerated wind velocity as the Antarctic wind vortex shrinks.

The clearest manifestation of warming is the disintegration of ice shelves due to the effect of warming seas, including the Wilkins ice shelf which for the first time continued to breakdown during winter (June-July) 2008. Another expression of warming is the accelerating movement of glaciers, where “the mass of the ice sheet decreased significantly at a rate of 152 ± 80 cubic kilometers of ice per year”.

Never to be discouraged, and referring to alleged cooling in some areas (possibly due to ozone depletion), or to warming due to volcanic activity in other areas, a controversy erupted. In a plethora of bogus climate websites some “skeptics” are claiming Antarctic warming is not a part of global warming.

Presumably regarding Antarctica as part of another planet?

This would have been funny had not the implications of ongoing denial been so serious. In the words of Clive Hamilton:

If scientific advances cause scientists to reject the conclusions of past IPCC reports … not much harm will be done … but if … fellow skeptics were successful in stopping policies to cut emissions and the IPCC projections turn out to be correct, then environmental catastrophe will follow and millions of people will die.

Do they lose sleep over this? Do they worry about how their grandchildren will see them? Or are they so consumed by the crusade that they know they will never be proven wrong?

A recent paper in Nature by leading US scientists, referred to a past greenhouse event (Paleocene-Eocene boundary) where natural emission of 2000 Gigaton CO2 resulted in +5 degrees C temperature rose over 10,000 years (leading to extinction).

At the current rate of CO2 emission of near-30 Gigaton CO2 per year, similar levels would be reached in about 60-70 years, even without taking carbon feedbacks into account.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey