There was news about climate change and the Antarctic ice sheet last week, and it doesn't bode well if you love penguins or own oceanfront property. (Or believe that climate change isn't happening at a rapid clip.)
Oceanographer Doug Martinson of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told an American Geophysical Union audience that ocean waters in western Antarctica -- which he's studied for nearly two decades -- have experienced "the highest increase in temperatures of anywhere on Earth."
Glaciers are in retreat, Adelie penguin colonies have vanished and there's growing concern that the vast West Antarctic Ice Sheet could break free and begin melting in decades, not a century from now.
(Larry O'Hanlon of Discovery News online has an excellent report -- well worth your time to read in full.)
The key point is that the heat of global warming has largely been absorbed by the oceans over two centuries of industrialization. Now that warm water is coming to the surface in, as O'Hanlon eloquently puts it, "one of the worst possible places."
How rapidly the ice sheet and continental glaciers melt is dependent on the vagaries of winds that cause an upwelling of deep ocean water along the coast of western Antarctica -- the same upwelling phenomenon that's responsible for abundant nutrients, and marine life, along the coast near Monterey.
Joe Romm of Climate Progress notes that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is "fundamentally far less stable" than the Greenland ice sheet, increasing the potential for a catastrophic collapse of the ice sheet.
Regardless of what people do to limit greenhouse gases in the future, Martinson said, we're stuck dealing with the heat already in the ocean. That means the ice sheets will continue to melt, and sea level continue to rise -- with no end in sight.
Photos: Adelie penguin courtesy NOAA/Michael Van Woert; Antartica courtesy NASA