Polar ice not melting as fast as you were told

posted at 7:20 pm on February 8, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

If you already put your beachfront property up for sale in anticipation of it being underwater soon due to global warming, you may want to hold off on taking bids. Why? Some more odd bits of climate data are acting in a pesky fashion and refusing to go along with the settled science.

Nearly 230 billion tons of ice is melting into the ocean from glaciers, ice caps, and mountaintops annually—which is actually less than previous estimates, according to new research by scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

If the amount of ice lost between 2003 and 2010 covered the United States, the whole country would be under one-and-a-half feet of water, or it’d fill Lake Erie eight times, researchers say. Ocean levels worldwide are rising about six tenths of an inch per year, according to researcher John Wahr.

The team used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite, which was launched as a joint project between NASA and Germany in 2002. The GRACE satellite measures gravity, which is related to mass, in 20 distinct regions worldwide. Wahr says that gives the team more accurate estimates, because previous teams had to measure ice loss at “a few easily accessible glaciers” and then extrapolate it to the 200,000 glaciers worldwide.

“It’s tough to get an estimate [with previous methods],” he says.

You know, a lot of things were “tough to get an estimate” on in science in every single generation. Then somebody comes along and figures out a way to do it a little better. And if you’re lucky, you get collectively smarter and work on the next advancement. After a sufficient period of time, you just might begin to get a handle on what’s actually happening. But today we might find somebody else saying exactly the opposite thing at the same time. Wait! WE DID!

Glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica are losing nearly 150 billion tons of ice each year, contributing to an annual 0.4 millimeter rise in sea levels globally, according to a study done by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“The earth is losing an incredible amount of ice to the oceans annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea-rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change,” CU-Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who led the study published in the journal Nature, said in a statement.

I’ve said it too many times before to go into the whole thing again. I’m not saying that I know exactly what the climate is going to do in 1,000 years or 100 years or 100 days. All I’m saying is that the planetary climate system is far more complex than we can currently model with the available data and computer power. And the people who say that they DO know what’s going to happen tend to annoy me, because we’re just not that smart yet. If we already knew for sure, there wouldn’t be a debate.

When you get to the point where you can tell me on Monday whether or not I’ll need my umbrella when I go shopping on Friday and get it right more than 70% of the time, maybe we can talk about what’s going to happen in 200 years. Until then, let’s just try to learn more and get better at the actual science without turning everything into politics, OK? Thanks.


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