No, Antarctica isn’t gaining ice mass (sigh)

Posted: November 3, 2015 by watsonthethird in Blogs For Victory, Climate Change, Conservative Idiocy, Current Events
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Blogs For Victory’s Mark Edward Noonan never misses an opportunity to prove he isn’t a scientist, repeating the latest climate change denialism talking points. And this week he was true to form, dutifully repeating a canard that’s been making the rounds of conservative blogs and websites lately:

A bit of a Global Warming Climate Change update – turns out that Antarctic ice mass isn’t actually declining. There are 6.36 million cubic miles of ice in Antarctica; the average thickness of the sheet is 6,500 feet (that is well more than a mile, folks) – we’re going to have to warm up more than a degree or two by 2100 to make a real dent in that.

It’s almost as if Noonan trolls the Internet for his talking points…

Anyway, Noonan’s secondhand source is Watts Up With That, not exactly a paragon of science. And Mark Edward Noonan, being a twenty-first century conservative, uncritically accepts anything that denigrates science. After all, science is, in his mind, a grand leftist liberal conspiracy to steal money from those who earned it.

Not surprisingly, Watt’s claim relies on a faulty and incomplete interpretation of partial data that is favorable to climate deniers, which they know the Noonans of the world will eat up. (This is also the way he wrote 150 Reasons Why Barack Obama Is the Worst President In History, by the way.)

Here’s what’s actually going on, courtesy Phil Pliat at Slate:

A new study just published in the Journal of Glaciology is causing some buzz in climate circles, because it appears to claim that Antarctica—long thought to be losing ice at extremely alarming rates—is actually gaining ice.

However, note the word appears. The reality is more complicated, and in the end the important aspect of this is that the study only talks about part of Antarctica, and only used data up to 2008. Both of these points are critical.

Here’s what’s what.

The authors looked at satellite altimeter data, using that to track how much snow accumulated over a given time period. Looking at different satellites, they found that enough snow fell over some parts of the southern continent (most importantly the vast area of East Antarctica) to more than balance the ice lost via melting.

In other words, East Antarctica (and parts of West) was gaining mass. That’s interesting!

But the authors note that the accumulation rate is steady while losses are increasing. As they mention in their conclusion, this gain in mass over the regions studied can’t keep up with losses, and they’re likely to balance in about 20 years. After that, losses win.

There’s more. They looked at data going from 1992–2008. Starting right around that time, mass loss due to melting ice in Antarctica (mostly in the west) has accelerated. It’s actually been speeding up for some time, but in recent years it’s really kicked in. Every year, about 6 billion more tons of ice are lost than the year before. In the past two decades, the loss rate has doubled.

This is enough to easily outpace the mass gained by snowfall over East Antarctica. Using data taken by the Grace satellites (which measure how mass underneath them changes over time), we know that overall, Antarctica is currently losing more than 130 billion tons of ice per year, and again, that number is increasing every year. Since 2002 it’s lost about 2 trillion tons of ice.

Mind you, this isn’t including Greenland, which is losing ice at an even more staggering 280 billion tons per year, and has lost well over three trillion tons over that same time period.

So no matter how you slice it, Antarctica is losing ice, and losing it fast.

Plait goes on to say (my emphasis added):

Of course, the usual suspects in the global warming–denying noise machine are jumping all over this study, claiming triumph … but, as usual, they obfuscate, they cherry-pick, and they ignore evidence that contradicts their claims that everything is rolling along just fine.

Here’s the difference between real science and what they do: When I first read about this Antarctic study, my reaction was one of hope. Although I knew that sea levels were rising, and that this must be coming from somewhere, if Antarctica was actually gaining ice, that could provide a good buffer against catastrophic melting.

But upon further examination it became clear that this was not the case. I was happy to entertain the notion that I might be wrong in my conclusions, and I still am. But all the evidence points to the conclusion that Antarctica is still losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year, will lose more every year, and it’s joined (and even outpaced) by Greenland.

The world really is warming up. We really are losing ice. The sea levels really are rising. Oceans really are getting more acidic as they absorb some of the 40 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide we humans pump into the atmosphere every year.

  1. mitchethekid says:

    Rejoice in the fact that you live in the real world, and people like Noonan hate it so much they refuse to accept that it even exists.

  2. rustybrown2014 says:

    Nice takedown, Watson. What fuckwads.

    Have you noticed these days that as the overwhelming evidence for planetary warming increases their standard denialism is tempered with healthy doses of “nothing we can do about it anyway” and “global warming won’t be so bad”? It’s exactly what we on the left predicted they would do back when their only schtick was simply straight denialism. Years from now, as their grandchildren are suffering the consequences of a heated planet, they’ll conveniently forget they ever denied AGW and just frame themselves as stoic pragmatists.

  3. meursault1942 says:

    Yeah, well, Carly Fiorina saw a video in which Planned Parenthood admitted that Antarctic ice has quadrupled just over the past two weeks alone, so suck on THAT, libturds!

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