Ella is an atmospheric physicist who has just finished her PhD with the British Antarctic Survey, looking at the atmospheric causes of a melting ice in the Antarctic Peninsula. She researched how cloud composition, solar radiation and changing weather patterns were affecting an area which has seen dramatic temperature rises over the last few decades. She describes her time visiting the area as ‘probably the most life-changing thing’ she’d ever done.
In this illustrated interview she contrasts the Arctic, a frozen ocean surrounded by continents, with the Antarctic, a frozen continent surrounded by ocean, explaining that we understand Arctic warming issues much more clearly for a variety of reasons, not least the enormous challenge and expense of visiting and spending any time there.
What is becoming clear though, is that as well as the Antarctic Peninsula warming by around 3 degrees over the past 60 years, new research is showing there are huge changes beginning to happen across the continent, and particularly in the west, a region containing enough ice to raise sea levels by 8 metres if it melts. And the most worrying thing is that it is beginning to do just that.
The ice shelves and glaciers sit on bedrock that slopes backwards, so the fear is that once melting has passed a certain threshold, there will be a runaway positive feedback effect, and the latest research reveals that glaciers are dramatically accelerating, a sign that this process is underway and could lead to a catastrophic collapse event. So there’s now a rush to research further.
Ella reminds us that climate change is already causing devastating effects on communities and livelihoods are being destroyed right now, especially in developing countries where it’s harder for people to adapt. The scientific consensus is that it is a global emergency requiring action far greater than anything we’ve done so far.
Simply stopping the emission of warming gases must be the main priority, even though industry is promoting the technological carbon capture as a possible mitigation, but there is also a pressing need for western societies to reduce consumption (with the societal and political changes which that implies).
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