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Media reaction: Antarctica’s ice loss

Recent studies are ringing alarm bells over Antarctica’s ice loss – the largest frozen mass on the planet containing 90% of the earth’s ice

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Image by Rita Willaert

A number of new scientific studies have drawn attention to the rapid melting of ice in the Antarctic, calling it a dangerous warning sign on climate change.

Firstly, a study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research alerted that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica was extremely vulnerable. This came as a shock, the South China Morning Post said, as East Antarctica’s basins had thus far been considered relatively stable. "East Antarctica's Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant. Once uncorked, it empties out,” the study’s author explained. While the ‘ice cork’ is still in place, climate change threatens to melt it away and set an irreversible ice flow in motion.

Two separate studies, by NASA and the University of Washington, concluded that the process causing the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse is already happening and unstoppable. Citing climate change as a main culprit, they predicted that the loss of the ice sheet could eventually cause a sea-level rise of up to four metres.

Another study relying on data from European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat satellite revealed that the Antarctic ice sheet is “disappearing at twice the speed of when it was last surveyed, losing 159 billion tonnes of ice to the ocean every year”.

“This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like,” a Mother Jones headline ran.

It seems too late now to put the fuse out on Western Antarctica, Richard Alley, a climate scientist at Penn State, told The New York Times. But there’s “a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”

The dramatic rise would eventually “change the coastline of the whole world,” observed Hamish Pritchard in The Guardian. Especially hard-hit areas: eastern US and along the south of China. He calls to arms: “we have to adapt to it…it's going to be very expensive, and it's going to be very hard.”

For El País the “good news” was that the rise will happen between 200 to 1,000 years from now.

However, writing in Die Welt, Ulli Kulke takes issue with the studies, suggesting the authors were “irresponsible” for attaching the “irreversibility label” to Antarctica’s ice loss (likely done to catch attention, he contends). Rather than engaging in absurd attempts to stop climate change, he claimed, the world should spend at least as much energy and resources on adaptation.

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