Of Glaciers and Melt Patterns

On January 28, 2008, in General, by Neil Stevens

Panicked supporters of radical changes to our national economy have for some time pointed to the “startling” decline of the Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica as proof that our oceans are heating us to death! Icebergs! Cracks! The sky is falling, and only Al Gore can save us!

Of course, the stock response to that has been to point over to the other side of the continent, where in the east, the icecap’s been thickening for over a decade. This duality has seen no clear resolution, as global oceanic temperature change should either melt all glaciers, or none.

However new research may resolve this. It turns out there’s a volcano near the Pine Island Glacier, one that erupted so strongly about 2,200 years ago that it broke through all the ice and covered the region in ash. We know this because of radar research, oddly enough, as a plane overhead aims radio signals at the ice below, and uses the echoes to determine what’s underneath and at what depth. The ash was thick enough under the ice that it was mistaken for rock!

From this, researchers have speculated that since the volcano is still there, under the ice, there is some heat there. And that heat, perhaps with some lava now and then even, will melt ice, explaining why this one glacier has the Gilligans in a panic, despite things looking fine on the Other Side of the Island.

As an aside, I find it fascinating that the International Herald Tribune finds it necessary to ask David Vaughan about ocean temperatures also causing ice to melt. Vaughan, who co-wrote the Antarctic volcano article in Nature Geoscience, of course gave them the necessary reassurances. They don’t bother to check his profile, though, which shows how his career depends on that being true! His research focus is on “the role of ice sheets in the Earth system and the societal threat of climate change and rising sea levels.” If the glaciers aren’t melting due to systemic change, then he’s out of a job, so of course he’s going to minimize an inconvenient finding!

Understanding the difference between fact and opinion is critical in analyzing scientific research. And while one study is certainly not enough to draw any firm conclusions, this new research has given us something new to consider. If the oceans are likely to rise as high as the alarmists would have us believe, it would be grossly irresponsible to put on blinders and work only one theory of melting. Further research must be done on polar volcanoes by open-minded scientists, if we are to get satisfactory resolution of this theory.


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