I have a fixation with ice and the world’s cold places. I think it’s mostly because I’m convinced that winter is an endangered “species.” That’s why the poles have always called to me. Science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson wrote in his 1997 book, Antarctica: “There was something about [the continent] that fueled obsessions, that created all manner of idées fixes which then took over whole careers and lives. The ice blink, some called it.”
I try to satisfy my craving with a trip to an icy place once a year; and January 2014, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Antarctica for the first time. Antarctica and Greenland are home to the two largest ice sheets in the world; and I have now visited both of them. But things are changing, and they’re changing fast. My endangered species hypothesis could become more than just personal conjecture. A new report, published in the online magazine The Cryosphere, states that both places are contributing to a rise in sea level twice as much as they were just five years ago. And the ice sheets are thinning at the highest speed observed since measurements began in 1994.
The report is based on data recently gathered from more than 200 million elevation points in Antarctica and 14.3 million in Greenland that track the loss of ice mass. Current statistics were then compared with figures from 2009. Results showed that the volume of ice loss in Greenland has doubled in those five years, and the loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has increased by a factor of three.
A bit of good news is that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is gaining mass. Unfortunately, that growth doesn’t make up for the loss of ice in West Antarctica and Greenland. And, the ice of East Antarctica has a problem of its own: on May 4, 2014, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reported that an “ice plug”—a small rim of ice resting on bedrock below sea level, which currently holds back the ice behind it—might melt away in coming centuries if ocean waters warm. The institute also predicts that by 2100, ice melt from Antarctica alone could add more than 14 inches to global sea levels.
So, I remain enamored of the Earth’s quickly disappearing ice. I hope, after seeing the photos below, you catch the ice blink, too.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,
Want to see more of the great White Continent? Book an Antarctic cruise with Natural Habitat Adventures and WWF!