Scientists Discover ‘Grand Canyon’ Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet

A rift in the Antarctic rock as deep as the Grand Canyon is increasing ice melt from the continent, researchers say. A UK team found the Ferrigno rift using ice-penetrating radar, and showed it to be about 1.5km (1 mile) deep. Antarctica is home to a geological rift system where new crust is being formed, meaning the eastern and western halves of the continent are slowly separating. The team writes in Nature journal that the canyon is bringing more warm sea water to the ice sheet, hastening melt.

The Ferrigno rift lies close to the Pine Island Glacier where Nasa scientists found a giant crack last year; but the newly discovered feature is not thought to be influencing the “Pig”, as it is known. The rift lies beneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream on a stretch of coast so remote that it has only been visited once previously.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) project revisited the area two years ago in the person of Aberdeen University glaciologist Robert Bingham. The plan was to make ground observations that could link to the satellite data showing unexpectedly pronounced ice loss from the area. The team towed ice-penetrating radar kit behind a snowmobile, traversing a total of about 2,500km (1,500 miles). “What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape,” said Dr Bingham. “If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the [US] Grand Canyon. “This is at odds with the flat ice surface that we were driving across – without these measurements we would never have known it was there.”

The Ferrigno rift extends into a seabed trough, called Belgica. The scientists suggest that during Ice Ages, when sea levels were much lower than at present, the rift would have channelled a major ice stream through the trough. Now, they suggest, the roles are reversed, with the walls of the Belgica trough channelling relatively warm sea water back to the ice edge. Penetrating between the Antarctic bedrock and the ice that lies on it and lubricating the join, the water allows ice to flow faster into the sea.

“We know that the ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is governed by delivery of warm water, and that the warm water is coming along channels that were previously scoured by glaciers,” said Prof David Vaughan of BAS. “So the geology and the present rate of ice loss are intricately linked, and they feed back – if you have fast-flowing ice, that delivers ice to the edge where it can be impacted by warm water, and warm water makes the ice flow faster,” he told BBC News. Prof Vaughan doubted there would be more such features around the West Antarctic coast, though in the remoter still regions of the east, it was a possibility.

Ice loss from West Antarctica is believed to contribute about 10% to global sea level rise. But how the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets respond to warmer temperatures is the biggest unknown by far in trying to predict how fast the waters will rise over the coming century and beyond. A total melt of either sheet would raise sea levels globally by several metres. East Antarctica, by contrast, is so cold that the ice is projected to remain solid for centuries.

“Since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report [in 2007], which highlighted uncertainties connected with ice sheets, almost every significant piece of research we’ve produced has increased the significance of the ocean for West Antarctica and Greenland,” said Prof Vaughan. “There are changes in precipitation now and in future; but the really big, potentially fast, changes are connected to the oceans, and the goal for us is to model that system.”

From the BBC

Huge Iceberg Breaks off from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier

The Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland has calved an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan, scientists say. Images from a Nasa satellite show the island breaking off a tongue of ice that extends at the end of the glacier.

In 2010 an ice island measuring 250 square km (100 square miles) broke off the same glacier.

Glaciers do calve icebergs naturally, but the extent of the changes to the Petermann Glacier in recent years has taken many experts by surprise. “It is not a collapse but it is certainly a significant event,” Eric Rignot from Nasa said in a statement. Some other observers have gone further. “It’s dramatic. It’s disturbing,” University of Delaware’s Andreas Muenchow told the Associated Press. “We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before,” Mr Muenchow added. However, the calving is not expected have an impact on sea levels as the ice was already floating.

Icebergs from the Petermann Glacier sometimes reach the coast off Newfoundland in Canada, posing a danger to shipping and navigation, according to the Canadian Ice Service. Scientists have also raised concerns in recent years about the Greenland ice shelf, saying that it is thinning extensively amid warm temperatures.

Cold Weather Stops Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target Being Met

The Scottish government failed to meet its own climate change targets in 2010, according the latest official figures.
They showed greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.9% on 2009 figures, after taking emissions trading into account. Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said exceptionally cold weather conditions in Scotland in 2010 was to blame. The government is attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020. Mr Stevenson said “Scotland faced its coldest winter temperatures in almost a century – and quite rightly people across Scotland needed to heat their homes to keep warm and safe”. He added: “The Scottish government remains fully committed to delivering ambitious and world-leading climate change targets. We always knew it would be a challenging path to follow when these were set and that year to year fluctuations were inevitable”.

The minister said that significant progress had been made since 2010, including;

by 2010, 62% of Scottish households were already living in homes with a good energy efficiency rating, up from 55% from 2009
progress was made in tree planting, with rates increasing by almost 50% in 2010/11 compared with 2009/10

a recently launched consultation proposes ambitious targets to cut Scotland’s total waste from households and businesses by 5% by 2015 and 15% by 2025

2011 was a record year for renewable energy output with 35% of Scotland’s electricity coming from renewables

and the climate challenge fund, with £47.5m awarded since 2008, funds 525 projects across 383 communities

Later this year the Scottish government plan to lay before the Scottish parliament its second report on proposals and policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will outline how the targets can be met well into the next decade.

The 2010 figures were the first in which annual emissions reduction targets to be set under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. Responding to news of the figures, the Scottish Green Party’s Patrick Harvie said: “The government can’t get away with expressing shock that Scotland has cold winters some years; this failure of government policy can’t be pinned on bad weather when they have delayed year after year the national, street-by-street effort we need to insulate Scotland’s leaky homes. “Cutting energy bills and carbon emissions at the same time should be a no-brainer.”

Mike Robinson, from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said the country was proud of its “political leadership” in setting legislation on the issue, but it needed to “translate into credible action on the ground”. He added: “These figures underline the need for greater leadership in actually delivering reductions. World-leading climate legislation needs world-leading climate action.”

Scottish Labour’s climate change spokeswoman, Claudia Beamish, said the figures showed that the Scottish government had failed to deliver on the “very first target under the Climate Chance Act”. She added: “The minister blames the increase on the weather, and the UK committee on Climate Change has previously said that the figures for 2009 were the result of the economic downturn. Yet long term trends on transport and household emissions show an increase year on year. When will the Scottish government take action and deliver the step change necessary?”

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said climate change would not stop for a “bit of frost on the ground”. He added: “The Scotland Act will see the devolution of new tax raising powers, such as stamp duty and landfill tax. These could be used to encourage energy efficient homes and drive forward the Zero Waste initiative in Scotland.”

From the BBC

Wild World Weather and the UK Monsoon Season

It’s not just the UK that has experienced extreme weather in recent months. Now the southern Japanese island of Kyushu has joined the club of locations experiencing wild weather this year. Over the weekend, parts of the island received 100mm of rain per hour, experiencing a whole year’s rain in one weekend, flooding from which killed at least 28 people. Rescue teams are searching for six people reported missing. Add to this, the record breaking spell of hot weather and drought that has hit the US over recent weeks and the some of the wettest weather in recorded British history and you have yet more evidence of our changing climate. And it’s not just a question of miserable or uncomfortable weather. The US Department of Agriculture has forecast a spike in food prices as farmers struggle to maintain typical yields from their parched fields. The warnings have already led to a 30% increase in the price of corn, that staple of Midwest farms and whose cost impacts on the price of meat, bread and breakfast cereals. Farmers in the UK are increasingly reporting that they are losing the battle against the persistent and heavy rains that have fallen on the UK for four straight months. Whole crops have been lost through flooding and waterlogging with entire crops of potatoes, spinach and chard ploughed back into fields. Those crops that haven’t been ruined are mostly late and patchy with imports making up the shortfall in produce that would normally be supplied domestically. Fruit hasn’t fared much better with many of the UK’s traditional growing areas experiencing the feared late cold snap that inhibits the setting of the blossom required for the fruit to form. The heavy rains are already causing cherries to split, lowering their value. On top of the double-dip recession, UK businesses and households have had to contend with the wettest April ever together with the wettest April-June quarter ever. Now it seems certain that food inflation will soar through the second half of 2012. So now we can add farmers to the tourism industry on the list of business badly affected by the UK’s rains.

So what is causing this? Traditionally, climate scientists have been reluctant to pin the blame for individual events or runs of extreme weather on climate change but some are now coming out and saying that this year’s record-breaking weather is likely to be the result of climate change. A neat analogy that I heard recently though helps to explain the influence of climate change. It goes like this “Imagine that a top baseball player begins taking steroids. He hits many more home runs than usual but it’s impossible to say whether any individual home run was hit because of his use of steroids.” So it is with our climate. The increasing emission of greenhouse gases is leading to more frequent and more severe extreme weather but it’s still very difficult to say that any individual event was caused solely by climate change.

At Original Carbon, we have been saying for several years now that the UK has developed a summer Monsoon season. Each July for the past 6 years (including this one already) has produced more rain than the long-term monthly average, some by more than 100%, so a pattern is beginning to be set. Why is this? It is fairly well-known that the succession of wet summers the UK has experienced over the last 6 years is likely to be caused by a shift in the course of the Atlantic Jet Stream, a ribbon of high-speed, high altitude winds. These winds demarcate regions of warm and cold air. In the case of the Atlantic Jet Stream, regions to the south of the Jet Steam tend to have more settled, dry, anticyclonic weather than the cooler, wetter areas to the north. More typically, the Jet Stream runs to the north of the UK but in recent years, it has moved much further south, this year stationing itself over central France. One possible explanation for this comes from Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre. He postulates that major reductions in the quantity of Arctic sea ice may be causing the Jet Stream southerly move. Whatever the cause, the medium-term forecasts don’t show any relief from the rain in the UK.