Our Poles Are Melting

02 November 2003


There's grim news this week for the north and south poles… both of which are melting. In the north, Polar bears face an uncertain future as longer summers are causing thinning of the sea ice on which they rely for hunting seals. Scientists have used satellites to measure the sea ice thickness, revealing that the ice is 40% thinner than is was 40 years ago. The loss of ice could also speed up global warming, as less of the sun's heat is reflected back into space by the ice. And down south, a giant ice shelf the size of Scotland is melting rapidly in warm Antarctic waters, according to research led by Scientists from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. You may have heard of the Larson B - a floating ice shelf that fringes the east coast of the Antarctic peninsular -when a vast chunk of it collapsed off last year, well, now research has shown that it over the past few decades it's been drastically thinning. The findings suggest that Antarctica may be more sensitive to the effects of global warming than was previously considered. And there are far-reaching implications of Larsen B melting… apparently the release of freshwater from it is more than 8 times the annual outflow from the River Thames, enough to potentially cause disturbance in patterns of global ocean circulation. There of course remains a great deal of uncertainly surrounding global climate change and scientific modelling of all the processes involved but whatever the implications, these are two convincing examples that some things are certainly changing.


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