Climate Change and Antarctica Inextricably Linked
Reporting on the near certain collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and resulting impact of as much as twelve feet in sea level rise exploded in news stories around the world this week. While the science is groundbreaking, concerns about the impact of human related climate change on Antarctica, and as a result, the planet cannot really be considered novel. The New York Times coverage on May 12 notes that the new finding appears to be the fulfillment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University.” Indeed ASOC has been presenting papers on this threat since 2010, including most recently “IP74," introduced by the ASOC delegation at the 37th Antarctic Treaty Meeting in Brasilia, Brazil just two weeks ago.
As daunting as the prospect that the West Antarctic ice sheet melt is now inevitable, the news must be understood in its context. This is just one of many consequences of the continued reliance on fossil fuels in virtually every corner of the world. There continues to be a collective and global lack of will to address climate change, even as evidence grows and links to present day consequences (severe droughts, extreme weather patterns, giant wildfires) are more evident. With reasoned foresight, countries could come together to develop international measures to reduce green house gas emissions, helping to keep sea level rise from magnifying and being even more severe. Failure to act will almost certainly cause even more catastrophic effects, affecting not only Antarctica, the last great wilderness, but every corner of the planet.
Mark S. Epstein
Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition