The Extinction Chronicles

An impartial record of articles and events leading up to the end…

The Extinction Chronicles


Polar bears are inbreeding as ice melts away, scientists say

Li Cohen  4 days ago

‘Weird, patronizing behavior’: AOC lets rip at Manchin’s ‘young lady’…4 injured, 2 unaccounted for after explosion rocks Atlanta-area apartment…

Climate change is rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic, causing “large-scale changes” in how polar bears are able to function, according to a new study. In Norway, scientists found, the bears are inbreeding as the species fights to survive. a polar bear walking across a snow covered mountain: A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on the pack ice north of© Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on the pack ice north of

study published on Wednesday found that on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, polar bear populations have seen a 10% loss in their genetic diversity from 1995 to 2016. The primary driver for the decline among the two generations of bears studied in that time is the rapid loss of ice in the Barents Sea, as it causes “detrimental ecological and demographic effects” on animals, the study says.

The Barents Sea is experiencing the “fastest loss of sea ice” throughout the Arctic, according to the World Wildlife Fund. 

Polar bears rely on the ice for finding food, reproduction and movement, and as sea ice continues to melt, the animals become less able to conduct the activities essential to their survival. 

Pelagic bears — those that wander on the sea ice and only occasionally move to shore — are having greater difficulty finding access to land at all, scientists say. The bears have been observed as becoming “increasingly separated” from their denning grounds, where they go to stay while they are pregnant. 

The bears that live on Svalbard’s coast are facing other issues caused by climate change. With less sea ice available, there are fewer opportunities to hunt for seals, forcing bears to change their diets to eat more birds and bird eggs. In other areas of the Arctic, polar bears have been observed as becoming increasingly cannibalistic as their food sources diminish.

The loss of ice also impacted polar bears’ mating opportunities and their ability for subpopulations to disperse to other areas, the study found, resulting in some of the animals inbreeding to keep their groups alive. 

The level of inbreeding is low for now, the study says, but as groups of polar bears become more isolated because of their melting habitat, inbreeding may increase in the future, “most likely with negative effects such as inbreeding depression.”

Simo Njabulo Maduna, the lead author of the study, told CBS News that the findings could be “an early warning” of a grim future for polar bears. 

“It is worrisome because the loss of genetic diversity and likely inbreeding depression could result in reduced survival and productivity for this iconic species,” Maduna said.  

A 2020 study found that the melting sea ice is starving polar bears, and that within the century, polar bears could be extinct. As stated in the study, declining genetic diversity increases the risk of extinction. 

“The magnitude and rate of loss of genetic diversity and gene flow that we observed is alarming considering that polar bears have historically shown relatively little genetic differentiation even on a global scale,” the study says. “The results of simulations suggested that further loss of sea ice will lead to the continued erosion of local genetic diversity in polar bears of the Svalbard Archipelago.”PauseAd 01:53 – up next “Polar bears could go extinct due to climate change, study warns”Loaded: 10.12%Unmute0LOPolar bears could go extinct due to climate change, study warns

The study marks the latest research showing the changing reality for the polar bears is linked to climate change. 

“The sum of evidence…makes it very hard to come up with an alternative explanation,” Maduna said. “In fact, we cannot think of any other mechanism than climate-driven sea ice reduction that could reasonably explain the patterns observed.” 

Meltwater Pulse 1A: Melting Ice Sheets Caused Sea Levels to Rise Up to 18 Meters

TOPICS:Climate ChangeDurham UniversityOceanographySea Level


Melting Ice Arctic Antarctic Concept

It is well known that climate-induced sea level rise is a major threat. New research has found that previous ice loss events could have caused sea-level rise at rates of around 3.6 meters per century, offering vital clues as to what lies ahead should climate change continue unabated.

A team of scientists, led by researchers from Durham University, used geological records of past sea levels to shed light on the ice sheets responsible for a rapid pulse of sea-level rise in Earth’s recent past.

Geological records tell us that, at the end of the last ice age around 14,600 years ago, sea levels rose at ten times the current rate due to Meltwater Pulse 1A (MWP-1A); a 500 year, ~18 meter sea-level rise event.

Until now, the scientific community has not been able to agree about which ice sheet was responsible for this rapid rise, with the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet being a likely suspect, but some evidence pointing towards ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere.

The new study uses detailed geological sea-level data and state-of-the-art modeling techniques to reveal the sources of MWP-1A. Interestingly, most of the meltwater appears to have originated from the former North American and Eurasian ice sheets, with minimal contribution from Antarctica, reconciling formerly disparate views.

In addition to flooding vast areas of low-lying land, this unparalleled discharge of freshwater into the ocean — comparable to melting an ice sheet twice the size of Greenland in only 500 years — will have disrupted ocean circulation, with knock-on effects for global climate. Knowing the source of the meltwater will improve the accuracy of climate models that are used to replicate the past and predict changes in the future.

The results are important for our understanding of ice-ocean-climate interactions which play a significant role in shaping terrestrial weather patterns. The findings are particularly timely with the Greenland ice sheet rapidly melting, contributing to a rise in sea levels and changes to global ocean circulation.

Of the findings, lead author Yucheng Lin, in the Department of Geography at Durham University notes: “Despite being identified over 30 years ago, it has been surprisingly challenging to determine which ice sheet was the major contributor to this dramatic rise in sea levels.

“Previously, scientists tried to work out the source of the sea-level rise based on sea-level data from the tropics, but the majority of those studies disagreed with geological records of ice sheet change.

Our study includes novel information from lakes around the coast of Scotland that were isolated from the ocean due to land uplift following the retreat of the British Ice Sheet, allowing us to confidently identify the meltwater sources.”

Co-author Dr. Pippa Whitehouse, in the Department of Geography at Durham University said “The technique we have used allows us to really dig into the error bars on the data and explore which ice-melt scenarios were most likely.

“We found that most of the rapid sea-level rise was due to ice sheet melt across North America and Scandinavia, with a surprisingly small contribution from Antarctica.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic. This is very much on our minds today — any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.”

Rising sea levels due to warming climate pose a great risk to society, improving our understand of why and how fast change could happen will help us plan for the impacts.

Reference: “A reconciled solution of Meltwater Pulse 1A sources using sea-level fingerprinting” by Yucheng Lin, Fiona D. Hibbert, Pippa L. Whitehouse, Sarah A. Woodroffe, Anthony Purcell, Ian Shennan and Sarah L. Bradley, 1 April 2021, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21990-y

Yucheng Lin is funded by a Durham University – China Scholarship Council joint scholarship.

The Scotland data was collected and analysed by Durham University researchers, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Antarctica could melt ‘irreversibly’ due to climate change, study warns

Antarctica minus ice

A simulation shows Antarctica, totally stripped of ice.
(Image: © Garbe et al.)

Antarctica contains more than half of the world’s freshwater in its sprawling, frozen ice sheet, but humanity’s decisions over the next century could send that water irreversibly into the sea.

If global warming is allowed to continue unchecked, Antarctica will soon pass a “point of no return” that could reduce the continent to a barren, ice-free mass for the first time in more than 30 million years, according to a new study published Sep. 23 in the journal Nature.

“Antarctica is basically our ultimate heritage from an earlier time in Earth’s history. It’s been around for roughly 34 million years,” study co-author Anders Levermann, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, said in a statement. “Now our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state [until] temperatures go back to pre-industrial levels … a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: What we lose of Antarctica now, is lost forever.”

Related: 6 Unexpected effects of climate change

In the study, PIK researchers ran computer simulations to model how Antarctica will look thousands of years from now, depending on how high average global temperatures rise in response to modern greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that, if average temperatures rise 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels for any sustained period of time, much of the ice in West Antarctica will crumble, resulting in 21 feet (6.5 meters) of global sea-level rise; that amount of rise would devastate coastal cities like New York, Tokyo and London. This scenario could be a reality within decades; a global average temperature rise of 9 F (5 C) is currently considered the “worst-case” warming scenario if current greenhouse gas emission levels are allowed to continue through the year 2100, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If those IPCC projections are off, things could get much, much worse, the authors of the new study found. Should global temperatures rise between 11 and 16 F (6 to 9 C) above pre-industrial levels for any sustained period of time over the coming millennia, more than 70% of Antarctica’s present-day ice will be lost “irreversibly,” the study authors wrote. And, if temperatures rise by 18 F (10 C), the continent is doomed to be “virtually ice-free.” Should the continent lose all of its ice, global sea levels will rise by nearly 200 feet (58 m).

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A short video accompanying the study (shown here) illustrates that reality in grim detail, showing the continent’s ice vanishing first from the coasts, then all across the mainland until nothing but green plains and rocky cliffs remains.

This cataclysmic melting will not occur in our lifetimes; the full effects would likely not be seen for roughly 150,000 years, Andrew Shepherd, a climatologist from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study, told the Daily Mail.

However, the study authors warned, humankind’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this century could trigger an irreversible feedback cycle that seals Antarctica’s fate for millennia to come.

The rapid depletion of Antarctica’s ice shelves — large plates of ice anchored to the mainland on one side and floating freely over the ocean on the other — represent one particularly dangerous feedback mechanism, the researchers wrote. As warm ocean water laps against the underside of ice shelves, the point where the base of the shelf meets the water (also called the grounding line) retreats farther and farther back, destabilizing the entire shelf and allowing enormous chunks of ice from the mainland to slide into the ocean. Many ice shelves in West Antarctica are already experiencing this sort of runaway melt, with roughly 25% of the region’s ice in danger of collapsing, according to a 2019 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Antarctica’s fate is in the hands of current policymakers, the study authors concluded. The Paris Climate Accord, which 73 nations agreed to in 2015 (and which the United States abandoned in June 2017 at the behest of President Donald Trump), aims to limit the planet’s average temperature from rising by more than 2.7 F (1.5 C) above the preindustrial average, to forestall the worst effects of climate change.

While emissions dropped by a trivial amount earlier this year, due to mass quarantining during the pandemic, a UN report published earlier this month warns that the world is currently not on track to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Accord, with average global temperatures lingering around 2 F (1.1 C) above pre-industrial levels between 2016 and 2020.

The report added that there’s a 20% chance the annual global mean temperature will have increased by more than 2.7 F (1.5 C), at least temporarily, by the year 2024.

High Temperatures Set Off Major Greenland Ice Melt—Again

An Arctic heat wave ushered in the start of the melt season two weeks earlier than average

High Temperatures Set Off Major Greenland Ice Melt--Again
In this aerial view melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Sean Gallup Getty Images

A significant melt event is unfolding in Greenland this week.

With temperatures nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than usual in some areas, the southern part of the ice sheet is melting at its highest rate this season. Forecasts suggest that the melting on Greenland’s South Dome—one of the highest elevations on the ice sheet—may be the strongest for early June since 1950.

It worries experts that Greenland could be priming for another big melt season.

Early melting this spring, low snowpack in some areas and the potential for strong high-pressure weather systems later this summer have all raised red flags. Scientists are paying close attention after last summer’s record-breaking ice loss—an event scientists expect to occur more frequently as the Arctic continues to warm.

Scientists typically define the beginning of melt season as the first three-day period in which melting is observed across at least 5% of the ice sheet. This year, that period began on May 13—nearly two weeks earlier on average over the last few decades.

The melting coincided with a heat wave across much of the Arctic. Siberia and the central Arctic were some of the hardest-hit regions. But temperatures skyrocketed in parts of Greenland, as well, after an otherwise chilly start to the month.

At the same time, snow began rapidly disappearing along the margins of the ice sheet, exposing bare rock and ice. The lack of snow is one factor increasing the possibility of an above-average melt year, according to Jason Box, an ice expert with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

Snow plays an important role in the Arctic. Its bright surface helps to reflect sunlight away from the Earth. When snow disappears, more heat is able to get through and warm the surface. That, in turn, can cause faster melting.

The exposure of bare ice is happening earlier than usual this year, according to Box.

“Like last year, a dearth of snow along the western ice sheet preconditioned stronger than normal ice loss because the seasonal snow shields the dark bare ice with a bright reflective cover,” he told E&E News by email. “So, all else equal, we can expect more melt this year.”

Xavier Fettweis, a polar climate scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium, agreed that the lack of snow can pose a risk. He added that warm events are also necessary to kick-start the feedback process.

The ice sheet is in the midst of one now. And the fact that melting is happening at such high elevations, where snowpack tends to be stronger, may be cause for some concern.

The melting at South Dome, for instance, is likely to make the snow wetter and denser, according to Fettweis. That will diminish its ability to reflect sunlight and to absorb meltwater that forms on the surface of the ice sheet.

“Such an event so early in the season will certainly favour an above-average melt season this year,” he told E&E News in an email.

It’s possible that more heat waves are on the way.

According to Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at the analytics firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research, model forecasts suggest strong high-pressure events over Greenland this summer. High-pressure systems are often associated with warming on the ice sheet.

In fact, a recent study concluded that last summer’s extreme melting was linked to abnormally persistent high-pressure systems over Greenland (Climatewire, April 16). Greenland’s melt rates last year were second only to those in 2012—and the total amount of ice lost was actually the highest on record.

This summer’s forecasts seem to suggest the high-pressure systems will be most intense in July. And they may affect larger swaths of the ice sheet than the current melt event, which is mainly limited to the southern part of the ice sheet.

Cohen cautions that there’s still considerable uncertainty about forecasts this far in advance. It’s too early, for now, to say whether these events will definitely occur.

But if the forecast is accurate, he said, it’s “definitely suggestive of high melt over the ice sheet.”

In general, he added, the forecast is in keeping with research indicating that these high-pressure systems are becoming more frequent over Greenland. Some scientists believe that climate change, which can alter the structure and flow of the atmosphere, is partly to blame.

“Nothing is impossible; there’s always variability,” Cohen said of this summer’s forecasts. “But I think just the background would support a continuation of this pattern of high pressure in and around Greenland.”

None of the events this spring necessarily promises a melt season like last year. But put together, with the threat of more heat events this summer, they do suggest cause for a watchful eye on Greenland this season.

Antarctic Ice Melt May Have Hit an All-Time High on Christmas Eve

Poor penguin, poor us.
Photo: Getty

There are signs Antarctica just experienced its highest melt extent ever recorded in the satellite era. The big meltdown hit on Christmas Eve and is bad news for a continent already dealing with a lot. With summer is just getting started there, this is a serious case of Summertime Sadness.

Antarctic is the largest stash of ice on the planet. Warm oceans have posed the biggest threat to that ice by undercutting the ice shelves that float out into the sea, particularly the tongues of ice around West Antarctica. But surface melt could become a bigger concern, and the Christmas Eve meltdown is indicative of the concerns. Preliminary findings from modeling done at the University of Liège in Belgium show that the percentage of surface melt on the continent spiked on December 24. The modeling uses weather forecasts to simulate surface melt. Because the environment is so harsh in Antarctica, weather station data is tough to come by so these are best estimates.

Antarctic surface melt season starts in mid-November and runs into February. Late December and early January are the height of the melt season. On average, just eight percent of Antarctica’s surface melts at the peak. But this year has been anything but average, with everyday since late November showing well above normal surface melt extent. That culminated in a big melt spike on Christmas Eve when about 16 percent of the continent’s icy surface went into meltdown.

A graph showing the normal melt season, the maximum and minimum values, and what’s happened in 2019.
A graph showing the normal melt season, the maximum and minimum values, and what’s happened in 2019.
Image: University of Liège

That’s an area equivalent to the size of Denmark. West Antarctica—home to some of the most endangered ice on the planet—has seen the worst of the melt season according to the University of Liège data. But even the normally colder and higher East Antarctic hasn’t escaped a more watery fate.

When the surface melts, a glaze of ice can form when it refreezes. But if enough ice melts, then the melt can cause water to start pooling on the surface or flowing and sneaking into ice cracks, where it can fracture the ice apart. Scientists have observed this in the heart of Antarctica, but Antarctic Peninsula has had it the worst.

Robin Bell, a geophysics professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Earther that if this melt continues or worsens, it could hasten the collapse of the ice shelves already under threat from below. And that could pose serious risks to people who live along the coast by allowing land ice to tumble into the sea.

“[The ice shelves are] kind of like the cork in the bottle. They’re holding back a lot of the ice in Antarctica,” Bell said. “It means you’re pumping more ice into the ocean, and that’s what matters for sea level.”

Antarctic is unfortunately not the only stash of ice to be dealing with more extreme melt season. Researchers have observed the same phenomenon in Greenland as well. This summer’s melt season set a record for daily ice loss as a result of surface melting. Greenland has been the main contributor to sea level rise. With Antarctica’s ice loss accelerating, we’re starting to get into dangerous territory.

What Happens When Russia’s Permafrost Thaws?

Objects frozen for thousands of years emerge — and that’s just the beginning


Siberia, as seen from the air

The region of Yakutia in Siberia makes up approximately 20 percent of the area of Russia. It includes land within the Arctic Circle, along with a penchant for extremely cold temperatures in the winters. But even a space like this is not immune to the effects of climate change — and those effects are proving to be seismic for the numerous people who live there.

A new report from The New York Times details the effects of the thawing permafrost in vivid detail. Through interviews with residents, striking photographs and an analytical approach to science, the article powerfully demonstrates the ravages of climate change.

The effects of the thaw are numerous: villages have been flooded repeatedly, infrastructure has been damaged, and food stored in previously-freezing facilities has spoiled. The airstrip providing a connection between the city of Srednekolymsk and the rest of the country was shut down for a week due to flooding. In some cases, the effects of climate change have led to the movement of entire communities.

The village of Beryozovka has flooded virtually every spring for a decade, its 300 residents forced onto boats for weeks to run errands like buying bread. They finally accepted a five-year project to move the village 900 yards uphill.

Siberia is just one of the many Arctic areas being decimated by climate change. Last year, Earther noted footage of the island of Qikiqtaruk, which unnervingly depicted the effects of a warming climate on it. This winter, a new study explored the substantial risk that climate change poses to Arctic infrastructure.

The New York Times article also includes a vivid description of a severed wolf’s head that had been frozen for a jaw-dropping 32,000 years — along with a photo of it, which will probably show up on the cover of your favorite metal band’s next album. That sounds about right: apocalyptic listening for ominous times for the world around us, whether or not you call the Arctic home.

Editor’s Note: RealClearLife, a news and lifestyle publisher, is now a part of InsideHook. Together, we’ll be covering current events, pop culture, sports, travel, health and the world. Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

Ancient Antarctic ice sheet collapse could happen again, triggering a new global flood


It’s happened before, and it could happen again.

Tens of thousands of years ago, a giant ice sheet in Antarctic melted, raising sea levels by up to 30 feet around the world. This inundated huge swaths of what had been dry land. Scientists think it could happen again as the world heats up because of man-made global warming, new research suggests.

Such a collapse would again cause seas to rise dramatically, which would lead to a global flood.

Researchers led by geologist Anders Carlson of Oregon State University said the ice sheet disappeared about 125,000 years ago under climate conditions that were similar to today’s.

If future research confirms this finding, “the West Antarctic ice sheet might not need a huge nudge to budge,” Jeremy Shakun, a paleoclimatologist at Boston College told Science magazine. That, in turn, means “the big uptick in mass loss observed there in the past decade or two is perhaps the start of that process rather than a short-term blip.”

And once the ancient ice sheet melt got started, things got out of hand rather quickly. Global ocean waters may have risen as fast as 8 feet per century, a blink of an eye in climatological terms.

To do their research, Carlson’s team examined several marine sediment cores taken offshore of Antarctica. The cores are long cylinders of mud and silt that give clues about past changes in Earth’s climate.

Obviously, climate change 125,000 years ago was natural, not human caused as it is today.

Scientists speculate that a slight change in Earth’s orbit and spin axis created warmer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, which caused climate changes around the world, Nathaelle Bouttes at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science in the U.K. told Smithsonian magazine.

The research was announced earlier in December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

Some of the process is well underway: Global warming has caused over 3 trillion tons of ice to melt from Antarctica in the past quarter-century and tripled ice loss there in the past decade, a study released in June said.

That total is equivalent to more than 2 quadrillion gallons of water added to the world’s oceans, making Antarctica’s melting ice sheets one of the largest contributors to rising sea levels.  That amount of water is enough to fill more than a billion swimming pools or cover Texas to a depth of nearly 13 feet.

Overall, scientists say the melting ice in Antarctica is responsible for about one-third of all sea-level rise around the world.

How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change

If you think this summer has been intense as far as record warm temperatures, wildfires, drought, and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere, you haven’t seen anything yet — unless you happen to live in the Arctic.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air temperatures there are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” — twice as fast as they are around the rest of the globe. NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card states unequivocally that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

The Executive Summary of the report also adds, “Arctic paleo-reconstructions, which extend back millions of years, indicate that the magnitude and pace of the 21st century sea-ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and likely much longer.”

recent report from National Geographic revealed that some of the ground in the Arctic is no longer freezing, even during the winter. Along with causing other problems, this will become yet another feedback loop in the Arctic, causing yet more greenhouse gasses to be released from permafrost than are already being released and impacting the entire planet.

The simplest explanation for a positive climate feedback loop is this: The more something happens, the more it happens. One of the most well-known examples is the melting of sea ice in the Arctic during the summer, which is accelerating. As greater amounts of Arctic summer sea ice melt away, less sunlight is reflected back into space. Hence, more light is absorbed into the ocean, which warms it and causes more ice to melt, and on and on.

Dr. Ira Leifer is an academic researcher who specializes in bubble-related oceanographic processes (such as subsea bubble plumes emanating from the ocean floor), satellite remote sensing, and air pollution. Working closely with NASA on some of his projects, Leifer uses the agency’s satellite data to study methane in the Arctic and its role in climate disruption.

One of his concerns about a feedback loop already at play in the Arctic is how the heating of that region is already being amplified by ocean currents that transport warmer, more southerly waters northwards into Arctic seabed waters where it can affect methane deposits in submerged permafrost and sub-seabed methane hydrates.

“The release of this methane contributes powerfully to overall warming – methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which actually has a bigger effect [on] the atmosphere’s radiative balance than carbon dioxide on decadal timescales,” Dr. Leifer told Truthout.

Although climate is generally thought to occur on century timescales, human timescales and ecological adaptation timescales are measured in decades instead of centuries, and this is now how many climate processes are being monitored given the rapidity of human-forced planetary warming.

Dr. Peter Wadhams is a world-renowned expert who has been studying Arctic sea ice for decades.

His prognosis for the Arctic sea ice is grim: He says it is in its “death spiral.”

“Multi-year ice is now much less than 10 percent of the area of the ice cover; it was 60 percent or more before 2000,” Dr. Wadhams told Truthout. “[Sea ice] extent in summer is down to 50 percent of its value in the 1980s.”

Dr. Wadhams, who is also the President of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO), noted that this primary feedback loop is much further along than most of us realize.

“I see the summer sea ice disappearing by the early 2020s,” Wadhams said. He noted that the change of albedo (a measure of reflection of solar radiation) due to the loss of sea ice and snowline retreat across the Arctic “is sufficient to add 50 percent to the warming effect of CO2 emissions alone.”

Alarmingly, on August 21, Arctic scientists told The Guardian that the oldest and strongest sea ice in the Arctic had broken up for the first time in recorded history. One of them described the event as “scary,” in part because it occurred off the north coast of Greenland, which is normally frozen year-round. The region has long been believed to be “the last ice area”: It was thought, at least until now, to be the final place that would hold out against the melting impacts from an increasingly warmer planet.

Abrupt Acceleration

Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout how, now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced.

With a reduced gradient, the movement of warmth from low to high latitudes is slowed. As Earth rotates, this leads to a wavier jet stream that can carry low latitude warmth up to Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic, and the southward reach of cold air in the Arctic to lower latitudes. This explains why New Orleans, for example, has recently experienced unusual freezing winter weather.

“In addition, the waves in the jet stream that result are shifting to the east less rapidly, which means the unusual weather patterns that are more frequently occurring are moving eastward less rapidly,” Dr. MacCracken explained. “So both wet and dry periods are lasting longer, contributing to both excessively wet (e.g., flooding) and excessively dry (e.g., wildfire) conditions.”

Dr. Wadhams is concerned about this as well.

“The jet stream effect is because Arctic air is warming faster than tropical air, so the temperature difference is decreasing,” he explained. “This reduces the driving force on the jet stream, so it then meanders, which brings hot air to the higher latitudes (and cold air to some low latitudes).”

Summer weather patterns are now increasingly likely to become stalled out over places like North America, portions of Asia, and Europe, according to a recent climate study that showed how a warming Arctic is causing heatwaves in other places to become more intense and persistent due to a slowing of the jet stream.

Dr. Leifer warned that as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell. A similar merging of weather cells occurred during the time of the dinosaurs.

“The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe,” Leifer explained. “The plants that underlie the food chain would be replaced by others that the local animals (insects to apex predators) could not utilize — in short, an abrupt acceleration of the current Great Anthropocene Extinction event.”

The diminishment of the jet stream also contributes to another potentially catastrophic feedback loop within the Arctic seabed: Changes to the jet stream are causing longer and more intense heat waves to occur across the Arctic, which of course causes the Arctic Ocean to warm further.

Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Restoration Foundation in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with Dr. MacCracken for the United Nations that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate disruption-related issues.

Unlike the most commonly accepted idea that global temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 1.5°C, Lister told Truthout that the planet reaching 1.5°C above baseline “is fundamentally dangerous and that the rate of change we are seeing today means we will not even be able to stop the temperature at this level.”

Lister said this conclusion was reached, in part, due to initial observations from Dr. Wadhams regarding how the loss of sea ice was amplifying rates of change in the Arctic.

Lister told Truthout that “methane emissions [in the Arctic] are already a severe risk,” and that he and Dr. MacCracken’s UN paper shows that once temperatures started rising they would be largely unstoppable due to the interacting nature of the feedback mechanisms.

“Thus, one feedback mechanism, such as sea ice melting, can trigger another, such as methane releases, which then accelerates the first in a tightening spiral,” he explained. “In reality, there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.”

Dr. Leifer, who has been studying Arctic methane for years, shares the same concern.

“There is the potential for seabed methane deposits off Greenland to be destabilized by the input of warm melt water and also heat transport,” he said, in addition to having pointed out that this process has been occurring in other areas around the Arctic for many years.

As I have written in the past, we are currently facing the very real possibility of a major methane release in the Arctic. Such a release would be a catastrophe for the global climate — and the survival of humans and other species.

Could a Dire Situation Lead to a “War for Survival”?

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that the global focus on a maximum allowable temperature increase target of 1.5°C above baseline is both dangerous and unachievable. Most media and governmental attention has centered on keeping the Earth from warming 2°C over pre-industrial revolution baseline temperatures, and ideally limiting warming to 1.5°C. This is based on a politically agreed upon goal set forth during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, which were nonbinding.

“It reflects the way that intergovernmental climate change policy has been managed which has been to arbitrarily set a temperature target, which was firstly 2°C and then latterly 1.5°C, and then to see if economic and political policy can deliver an appropriate carbon budget,” Lister explained. “This is clearly not a rational way to develop climate change policy.”

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that, in an ideal world, the process would be the other way round; governments would decide a safe temperature rise based on the best science and then set an appropriate climate change policy. But this is not the world we live in.

Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently pointed out how the Arctic climate system has entered uncharted territory, so that even computer models are “no longer providing a reliable guide to the future.”

Dr. Leifer said that even if we prepare for the inevitable sea level rise from Greenland melting alone, accelerated melting there is “very bad,” as it reduces the time to implement plans. However, he noted, most countries are not in preparation mode to begin with.

“For example, a forward-looking society would encourage relocation through, say, tax incentives and disincentives from, say, most of Florida, to higher ground — even purely on a hurricane insurance basis,” he said. “Sadly, forward-looking is incompatible with our political system’s biannual money festival, aka elections. Still, very few other countries are doing better — excepting some northern European countries, like Holland — despite differences.”

The impacts of climate disruption aren’t waiting for our preparations, or lack thereof. Dr. Leifer believes that, sooner or later, the sea levels will rise dramatically.

Once this happens, he believes coastal cities will have to be abandoned due to sea level rise and increasingly destructive hurricanes. He believes that the sooner that departure happens, the less destruction and loss of human lives we will experience.

Dr. Leifer also expressed concern about the changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is currently weakening and already at its weakest in at least the last 1,600 years.

Dr. MacCracken told Truthout that his greatest concern about Arctic feedback loops is that of the melting of the plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He explained that the meltwater and warmth at the surface is penetrating down into the ice sheet, softening it enough that the glacial ice has started flowing outward, and as this happens, the surface of the ice sinks to lower altitudes.

This kicks in a feedback loop that ultimately causes warming to accelerate, which causes the ice to flow faster, which further accelerates the melting.

“The ice making up the Greenland Ice Sheet holds about the equivalent of 6-7 meters (~20 feet) of global sea level rise, and glaciological evidence makes clear that an order of approximately half of that melted during the last interglacial about 125,000 years ago, contributing significantly to the 4-8 meter rise in sea level at that time,” Dr. MacCracken said.

He pointed out that this rise was caused by a 1°C temperature increase, similar to the temperature increase Earth is experiencing right now (1.16°C above baseline).

“At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was near 300 ppm and the warming was due to differences in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; today, the orbital parameters are less favorable to significant warming, but the CO2 concentration is a good bit higher and growing,” Dr. MacCracken said. “And its warming influence acts all year long, making it not surprising that the loss of mass of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet is going up rapidly with a stronger and stronger influence on sea level around the world.”

The rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet is precisely what is causing the AMOC to slow.

Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said.

“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.

Trump Wrong on Climate Change, Again

In two recent interviews, President Donald Trump said he is not convinced that climate change is due to human activity, and he suggested that any changes will reverse themselves — two ideas that lack scientific backing.

He also claimed in a third interview that there are scientists “on both sides” of climate change, despite published papers showing that the vast majority of climate scientists — as high as 97 percent — agree on the issue.

Trump’s first comments on climate change this week came during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview on Oct. 14, when CBS’ Lesley Stahl asked whether Trump still viewed climate change as a hoax.

Stahl, Oct. 14: Do you still think that climate change is a hoax?

Trump: I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made. I will say this. I don’t wanna give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t wanna lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t wanna be put at a disadvantage.

Stahl: I wish you could go to Greenland, watch these huge chunks of ice just falling into the ocean, raising the sea levels.

Trump: And you don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man. You don’t know.

Stahl: Well, your scientists, your scientists–

Trump: No, we have–

Stahl: At NOAA and NASA–

Trump: We have scientists that disagree with that.

Stahl: You know, I– I was thinking what if he said, “No, I’ve seen the hurricane situations, I’ve changed my mind. There really is climate change.” And I thought, “Wow, what an impact.”

Trump: Well– I’m not denying.

Stahl: What an impact that would make.

Trump: I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talkin’ about over a millions of years.

The following day, the president repeated these ideas during a briefing about Hurricane Michael when asked by a reporter why he had changed his mind about climate change being a hoax.

Trump, Oct. 15: There’s no question. There is something there — man-made or not.  I mean, there’s something there. And it’s going to go, and it’s going to go back and forth. But there is something there.

Then, on Oct. 16, in an interview with the Associated Press, Trump once again said he agrees “the climate changes,” but said that it “goes back and forth, back and forth.” He said he was unwilling to “sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows,” noting that “you have scientists on both sides of the issue.”

Can Climate Change ‘Go Back’?

The president presents climate change as a phenomenon that naturally swings back and forth, arguing that it might reverse itself all on its own.

Climate systems are complex and do have natural cycles and feedbacks. But these cycles are already accounted forwhen scientists evaluate what is happening as the Earth warms from increases in greenhouse gases.

“There is no reason to believe the climate would swing back because something would have to push it back,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University, in a phone interview. “We have changed things so much that we now overwhelm things like the ice age cycles.”

When scientists, such as those with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, model future climate changes, there are no scenarios in which the general warming trend decreases by the year 2100.

The IPCC makes future projections under different greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions, among other factors, in what it calls Representative Concentration Pathways, to show what we might expect given various levels of action on climate change.

According to the IPCC’s fifth assessment report, which was finalized in 2014, global surface temperatures are expected to rise by 0.3 to 1.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century in even the most aggressive scenario, known as RCP 2.6. In this scenario, greenhouse gas emissions are severely limited, consistent with the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. While this goal is thought to be technically feasible, it requires the participation of all countries.

Taking no additional action on climate change is projected in the same report to result in a global temperature increase between that expected for the two most lax scenarios, which range from 1.4 to 3.1 and 2.6 to 4.8 degrees Celsius. Looking further out, warming continuesafter 2100 in all scenarios except for RCP 2.6, the most stringent one.

“All the scientific evidence suggests that the changes humans are causing now will last for hundreds or thousands of years, so long enough that we will have to move cities and infrastructure,” Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University, and a lead author of the IPCC’s latest special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, told us in an email.

On a very long timescale, the Earth might eventually cool after today’s warming has taken effect and an ice age sets in. But Shindell explained that won’t happen for at least thousands of years.

“The CO2 going away will take thousands of years,” he said in an email, “and even then it’d have to be driven by changes in earth-sun orbital alignment going in the right direction once the CO2 levels have declined.”

If that is the “back and forth” Trump has in mind, it will come too late to prevent the Earth from having to experience the ecosystem changes, extreme weather events, and rises in sea level that scientists expect from climate change in the near future.

Is Climate Change Man-Made?

In both the “60 Minutes” interview and the briefing on Hurricane Michael, the president questioned whether climate change is caused by humans, saying, “I don’t know that it’s man-made,” and “There is something there — man-made or not.” As we have writtenbefore, this is not an open question. Hundreds of scientists from across the world agree that climate change is driven by humans.

In the latest IPCC assessment, the group was even more confident than in its previous report that human activity causes climate change, writing, “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.” The IPCC defines “extremely likely” as between 95 percent to 100 percent probability.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2017 Climate Science Special Report comes to the same determination. The program’s website explains that the “assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” It adds, “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump also responded to Stahl’s example of ice chunks falling off of Greenland and raising the sea level by saying, “And you don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man. You don’t know.”

Trump is right — but only to a point. It is impossible to tie any particular ice chunk to climate change and human activity. “Any individual chunk of ice, we don’t know if that particular bit of frozen water would have fallen off without climate change,” said Drew Shindell, the Duke climate scientist. But, he said, Trump is correct only in the narrowest sense. “We’re quite sure that the observations of the accelerated Greenland-wide loss are related to climate change,” he said.

Trump has questioned the status of glaciers, or what he called “ice caps,” before, and as we’ve explained, satellite imagery shows that Greenland has been losing mass since at least 2002, with increases in that rate since 2009.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration estimates that for the last 15 or so years, Greenland has lost a whopping 286 gigatonnes of ice per year, and this has led to a 0.8 millimeter rise in the global sea level each year. Some of the ice loss is from iceberg calving, which is when ice breaks off from the edge of a glacier, and is likely what Stahl had in mind, and some is from surface melting.

The fifth IPCC assessment also concluded that human activity likely was behind ice loss and that it is connected to sea level rise.

“Glaciers have lost mass and contributed to sea level rise throughout the 20th century,” the report reads. “The rate of ice mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased over the period 1992 to 2011, resulting in a larger mass loss over 2002 to 2011 than over 1992 to 2011.” The report adds, “Anthropogenic influences likely contributed to the retreat of glaciers since the 1960s and to the increased surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet since 1993.”

Even in the specific case of Greenland’s ice sheet, the president’s skepticism about climate change being man-made is misleading and does not reflect what is known by scientists.

Do Scientists Disagree?

In the AP interview, Trump repeatedly claimed that scientists do not agree about climate change, saying, “you have scientists on both sides of the issue.”

The president made a similar statement two days before, when he said that “we have scientists that disagree” in response to Stahl challenging him on his remark about Greenland, when she brought up “your scientists” at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It is unclear from the president’s comments whether he was saying that NOAA and NASA scientists disagree, and the White House did not respond to our request for clarification or for help identifying these scientists.

But both the NOAA and NASA websites clearly support the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is primarily caused by human activity, and these agencies are behind important climate change research projects in Greenland. NASA notes that studies have shown that “97 percent or more” of actively publishing climate scientists are in agreement — studies we have discussed before.

“There are very few climate scientists today who are skeptical of climate change, and their arguments tend to be rather weak,” said Mahowald, the Cornell climate scientist. “They argue that the models are not accurate enough, and that the feedbacks will reduce the impact. But they can’t explain the trends.”

Mahowald said the IPCC’s results, which represent the scientific consensus, are carefully put together by many scientists after assessing the scientific literature, and are accepted by governments, including the United States, in approval sessions.

“Any results that are scientifically controversial do not make it into the reports,” she said. As a result, rather than exaggerating the impact or importance of climate change, she said the reports “tend to be rather conservative.”

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“I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back.”

Earth’s Ice Loss “Is a Nuclear Explosion of Geologic Change”

Much of the frozen water portion of the Earth, otherwise known as the cryosphere, is melting.

This is not news: It’s been happening for decades. What is news is that the long-term melting trends in the Arctic, Antarctica, and with most land-based glaciers are accelerating, often at shocking rates, largely due to human-caused climate change.

Antarctica is melting three times as fast as it was just 10 years ago, alarming scientists. A study earlier this year showed 3 trillion tons of ice had disappeared since 1992. That is the equivalent of enough water to cover the entire state of Texas with 13 feet of water, and raise global sea levels a third of an inch.

“From 1992 to 2011, Antarctica lost nearly 84 billion tons of ice a year (76 billion metric tons),” read the AP story on the study. “From 2012 to 2017, the melt rate increased to more than 241 billion tons a year (219 billion metric tons).”

“I think we should be worried,” one of the study’s 88 co-authors, University of California, Irvine’s Isabella Velicogna, told AP. “Things are happening. They are happening faster than we expected.”

In fact, the polar ice caps have melted faster in the last 25 years than they have in the last 10,000 years.

In the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet is losing an average of 270 billion tons of ice each year, and the strongest sea ice in the region broke up for the first time on record this summer.

For glaciers that exist outside of the Polar Regions, the situation is even worse.

“You can count on all alpine glaciers in the world to be gone by 2100,” Dan Fagre, US Geological Survey (USGS) research ecologist and director of the USGS Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Project, told Truthout.

Truthout spoke with experts like Fagre, as well as others with expertise in the Antarctic and Arctic, who shared an often-grim prognosis of what lies in store for the cryosphere.


Ruth Mottram is a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute who has been studying Greenland for the last 11 years, and the Arctic for the last 15. Mottram is also one of the scientists behind the Polar Portal – a Danish web portal that gives near real-time data on the Arctic, including sea ice and Greenland ice sheet processes.

She explained to Truthout that melting in Greenland can vary significantly from year to year and is highly dependent upon weather conditions any given year.

“However, since the turn of the millennium there has been a series of summers where there have been increasingly large amounts of melt and runoff into the ocean,” Mottram explained.

She studies the surface mass budget, which is the balance between income — snowfall — and the outgoing melt and runoff. Mottram and her colleagues sum these up daily on the Polar Portal, as well as over the entire year, which in turn gives them an idea of the “health” of the ice sheet.

Her data is alarming.

“Of the top 10 lowest surface mass budget years,” Mottram said of this data, “only 2 occurred before the year 2000.”

She explained that on top of this, the ice sheet can also lose mass by calving (ice breaking off a glacier at its terminus) from glaciers and basal melting.

“Yet, both of these processes also have to be balanced by snowfall and what we see in the last two years is that the total budget, as opposed to the surface-only budget, has been roughly neutral – around 0,” she added.

However, Mottram also pointed out how the ice sheet has lost 200 – 300 gigatonnes (one gigatonne is about 1 cubic kilometer) of ice every year from 2003-2011. This means that the two aforementioned neutral and relatively lower melting years, as she put it, “do not nearly reverse the mass losses of the last decades.”

Greenland Ice Sheet meltwater is influencing the circulation of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a massive oceanic conveyor belt current that moves huge amounts of warm water from the tropics northward, and from the Atlantic up toward the Arctic. The AMOC plays a critical role in creating the mild climate of the UK and other parts of Western Europe.

“There is also some evidence that Arctic climate change in general is influencing mid-latitude weather patterns – leading to the kind of persistent and extreme weather that leads to, for example, the heatwave we had in northern Europe this year,” Mottram explained. “The idea is that the warming of the Arctic – which has been more rapid than in other parts of the planet – has led to a smaller difference in temperature between pole and tropics, which then leads to a more wavy jet-stream.”

While Mottram believes longer observations are needed on this topic, some studies have pointed out how the wavier jet-stream is intensifying extreme weather events like hurricanes, as well as altering global climate patterns.

Meanwhile, the increasing melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet is directly linked to the increase in calving and iceberg production at outlet glaciers.

“These can pose hazards to shipping and fisheries,” Mottram added. “But they also allow the ice sheet to contribute water to the ocean faster than just by melting.”

She and her colleagues also note the number of storms tracking up the east coast of Greenland of late, which have brought a lot of snow and rain to eastern Greenland and seem to be penetrating higher up into the Arctic – possibly due to the lower sea ice extent there.

“The winds associated with these storms can bring quite high temperatures to east and northeast Greenland, and this year we twice saw very unusual warm periods – associated with Foehn winds (similar to the Chinook in north America) – that also opened up the pack ice around the coast of Greenland,” Mottram explained. She also pointed out the role this could have played in the way in which the aforementioned “last ice area” of sea ice recently began to move away from the coast and break up.

This led to the north coast of Greenland briefly becoming navigable over the summer. The Polarstern and Oden – two research ships from Germany and Sweden respectively – were able to access areas of the Arctic to do research much more easily than had been expected.

The same is true of the Venta Maersk – the Danish “ice class” container ship that was the first to traverse the northern sea route this summer.

“It’s not to say it’s easy to sail in the Arctic right now, quite not,” Mottram said. “But the time is coming soon!”

Michael MacCracken, the chief scientist for climate change programs at the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, told Truthout that the loss of land ice, such as the loss of mass from the Greenland Ice Sheet, clearly raises sea level globally.

“This threatens low-lying coastal areas and island nations, and additionally, the rise in sea level can lift up glacial ice streams around Antarctica,” he said. “This then allows ocean waters better access to the ice streams, warming them and making calving more likely, ultimately contributing to further sea level rise.”


NASA emeritus scientist Robert Bindschadler, who worked for 35 years as a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, previously told Truthout that the world may see three to four meters of sea level rise by the year 2200.

Bindschadler has led 18 field expeditions to Antarctica, published more than 130 scientific papers, and advised the US Congress and a former vice president on the stability of ice sheets and ice shelves. His current primary concern about what is happening in the Antarctic is linked to the fact that many of the glaciers there exist within deep valleys, as remote sensing has proven as of late.

“These deep valleys matter because they mean the glacier is sitting in a trough so deep that were you to remove the ice, it is below sea level,” Bindschadler told Truthout. “The damage the ocean can do only extends to the point where the glacier retreats onto the land. But the fact that these big outlet glaciers in Antarctica are sitting in a valley whose floor is below sea level means they can never escape the impact the oceans have on them.”

In other words, these land-based glaciers are now at risk of being melted from below by warming seawater that could flow into the valleys within which the glaciers are located.

He pointed out another worrisome fact about these valleys: Many of their depths may increase the further they get from the ocean.

“So, the ocean has greater impact on them the more they melt, which means the potential for fast and continual retreat of these outlet glaciers is probably more widespread than we appreciated four years ago,” Bindschadler added.

Bindschadler is concerned that these valleys – in which so many of the major glaciers exist – could be the next major factor in how glacial ice is rapidly released into the oceans, causing sea levels to rise further.

Alpine Glaciers

Fagre, who is the lead investigator in the USGS Benchmark Glacier Program and has been working in Glacier National Park since 1991, is concerned about how mountain snowpack has been shrinking in Glacier National Park, like in so many other places, over the last half century.

In Glacier National Park, the snow is on the ground an average of 30 days less than it used to be.

“Since the planet is warming up, more of the precipitation in Glacier is now falling as rain instead of snow,” Fagre told Truthout. Since they’re less likely to be covered in snow, glaciers are more directly exposed to the sun, which obviously hastens their melting.

In 1850, Glacier National Park, before it was designated a national park, contained 150 glaciers, covering around 100 square kilometers. Today, only between 14 and 15 square kilometers of ice coverage remain, an 85 percent loss. Instead of 150 glaciers, there are now only 26. Even this alarming tally of ice loss is a conservative estimate, as measuring area doesn’t account for thinning.

Fagre and his team started monitoring the mass balance of Glacier National Park’s Sperry Glacier in 2005.

“Our program mirrors what the others are seeing in Alaska and the Cascades,” he said. Aside from a couple of years where the glacier accumulated more ice, the glacier lost mass consistently, “as is true for almost every mountain glacier in the world for which we have mass balance information.”

“Our trajectory has well exceeded previous worst-case projections for many of our glaciers,” said Fagre, and added that the Blackfoot and Jackson Glaciers in the park had melted faster than the predictions by a full decade.

“What we’ve found since then is that they continue to go, and at unsustainable rates,” he said.

“This is an explosion, a nuclear explosion of geologic change,” Fagre said of the global impacts from climate change, particularly in the cryosphere. “This is unusual. It is incredibly rapid and exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.”


Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with MacCracken for the UN that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate change-related issues.

Lister and MacCracken’s paper showed that the natural rate of carbon sequestration is so slow as to not be measurable. This doesn’t bode well for the possibility of halting climate change: The researchers say that carbon sequestration will be incapable of bringing atmospheric CO2 down to safe levels even in the hypothetical circumstance of a zero-carbon economy emerging.

Their paper also shows that while carbon sequestration and mitigation measures must continue to be pursued, “the likelihood is that that they will be unable to bring [atmospheric] CO2 down fast enough.”

Lister believes that climate change “is fundamentally irreversible as there is strong evidence that the heating effects of the amplifying mechanisms are greater than that of increases in [atmospheric] CO2.”

Lister told Truthout that he and MacCracken have argued that dramatic solutions to the climate crisis “must be pursued with all urgency.”

“Should we fail to make a start, then the scale of intervention that we need and the risks associated with it will increase exponentially with any delay,” Lister said.