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ANTARCTIC THREAT TO SEA LEVEL

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  • Pat Neuman
    ANTARCTIC THREAT TO SEA LEVEL By Michael McCarthy New Zealand Herald February 3, 2005 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=10009238 British
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2 5:41 PM
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      ANTARCTIC THREAT TO SEA LEVEL
      By Michael McCarthy
      New Zealand Herald
      February 3, 2005

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=10009238

      British scientists have discovered a threat to the world that may be a
      result of global warming.

      An international conference on climate change has been told that a
      massive Antarctic ice sheet, whose collapse would raise sea levels
      around the world by more than 5m, and which has been assumed to be
      stable, might be starting to disintegrate.

      Researchers from the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey are
      measuring remote points in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where they
      have recently found ice to be flowing out into the sea at the enormous
      rate of 250cu km a year.

      This discharge alone is raising global sea levels by a fifth of a
      millimetre a year.

      Professor Chris Rapley, the survey's director, told the conference at
      the UK Meteorological Office in Exeter that their discovery had
      reactivated worries about the ice sheet's collapse - which only four
      years ago were firmly dismissed.

      He said: "The last report [by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on
      Climate Change] characterised Antarctica as a slumbering giant in
      terms of climate change.

      "I would say that it is now an awakened giant. There is real concern."

      He added: "The previous view was that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
      would not collapse before the year 2100. We now have to revise that
      judgment. We cannot be so sanguine."

      Collapse of the sheet would be a disaster for the whole world, putting
      enormous swathes of low-lying, desperately poor countries such as
      Bangladesh under water.

      The conference has been called by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as
      part of Britain's efforts to increase the pace of international action
      on climate change.

      Blair has asked it to explore the question of just how much climate
      change the world can take, before the consequences are catastrophic
      for human society and natural ecosystems.

      It heard several alarming warnings of possible climate-related
      catastrophic events, including the failure of the Gulf Stream, which
      keeps the British Isles warm, and the melting of the ice sheet
      covering Greenland.

      But it was the revelations of Rapley, head of one of the world's most
      respected scientific bodies, which were the most dramatic, as they
      reopened a concern which many scientists assumed had been laid to rest.

      Antarctica as a whole is land covered by very thick ice, but the ice
      sheet covering the eastern half of the continent is very stable as it
      sits on rocks which are well above sea level.

      Worries about the ice covering the western half first surfaced more
      than 25 years ago when it was realised that there, the base rocks are
      actually well below the level of the sea.

      In some circumstances, it was feared, such as a melting of the edge of
      the ice sheet because of rising temperatures, sea water could get
      under it and eventually lead to its collapse.

      The dramatic discharge into the Amundsen Sea completely opened up the
      whole debate, Rapley said.

      It had only been recently discovered because the area was so remote. But
      British scientists, with United States logistical help, had now
      established a base in the area to investigate further.

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