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USGS reports dramatic retreat of ice shelves in southern Antarctic Peninsula

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"USGS reports dramatic retreat of ice shelves in southern Antarctic Peninsula"


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Every month brings more evidence the world’s greatest ice sheet is disintegrating much faster than the “consensus” forecast (see Satellite data stunner: “Our data suggest that EAST Antarctica is losing mass”¦. Antarctica may soon be contributing significantly more to global sea-level rise”). Guest blogger Nick Sundt has the latest news in a piece first published here.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported Monday that “every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. “  The finding comes on the heels of the warmest January on record for the Southern Hemisphere.

The USGS presented the findings in a map and a pamphlet (Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947″”2009 [PDF]), results of a collaborative project with the British Antarctic Survey, assisted by the Scott Polar Research Institute and Germany’s Bundesamt fűr Kartographie und Geod¤sie.  In the pamphlet’s introduction, the authors put the findings in context:

Reduction in the area and volume of the two polar ice sheets is intricately linked to changes in global climate, and the resulting rise in sea level could severely impact the densely populated coastal regions on Earth. Antarctica is Earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice. Melting of the West Antarctic part alone of the Antarctic ice sheet would cause a sea-level rise of approximately 6 meters (m) [20 feet], and the potential sea-level rise after melting of the entire Antarctic ice sheet is estimated to be 65 m [213 feet] (Lythe and others, 2001) to 73 m [240 feet] (Williams and Hall, 1993).

Data from the  Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite for 2002 to 2005 indicate that the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet decreased during that time, and that most of the reduction was from the West Antarctic ice sheet.

In a press release (Ice Shelves Disappearing on Antarctic Peninsula) the USGS explains that the area covered by the study contains five major ice shelves:  Wilkins, George VI, Bach, Stange and the southern portion of Larsen Ice Shelf.  “The ice lost since 1998 from the Wilkins Ice Shelf alone totals more than 4,000 square kilometers, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island,” the USGS says.

Southern Portion of Antarctic Peninsula.  USGS scientists are studying coastal and glacier change along the entire Antarctic coastline. This image identifies the southern portion of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is one area studied as part of this project.

Above: Southern Portion of Antarctic Peninsula.

Ice-front retreat in part of the southern Antarctic Peninsula from 1947 to 2009. USGS scientists are studying coastal and glacier change along the entire Antarctic coastline.

Above: Southern Antarctic Peninsula.  This image shows ice-front retreat in part of the southern Antarctic Peninsula from 1947 to 2009. Source: USGS.

In its press release the USGS adds:

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level…. Retreat along the southern part of the Peninsula is of particular interest because that area has the Peninsula’s coolest temperatures, demonstrating that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula…. The Peninsula is one of Antarctica’s most rapidly changing areas because it is farthest away from the South Pole, and its ice shelf loss may be a forecast of changes in other parts of Antarctica and the world if warming continues.

According to NASA data, after the warmest year on record in 2009, the Southern Hemisphere started 2010 with a record-shattering January.

Online Resources:


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14 Responses to USGS reports dramatic retreat of ice shelves in southern Antarctic Peninsula

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Nick Sundt quoted USGS: “… its ice shelf loss may be a forecast of changes in other parts of Antarctica and the world if warming continues.”

    “IF” warming continues?

    Did I miss some new science that indicates there is any possibility that warming will NOT continue?

    The excess CO2 with which we have already polluted the atmosphere guarantees that the warming WILL continue, even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow.

  2. Tim L. says:

    Holy f’ing crap!!

  3. dhogaza says:

    That’s just the careful enunciation of a scientist at work, rather than at the pub :)

    I can see the quote-mine, now – “USGS says warming might stop!”

  4. James Newberry says:

    National Public Radio discusses “weird weather” today, like snow in every state (on the continent). Note: there is nothing wrong with the climate, there is everything wrong with governmental “economics and energy.”

    Meanwhile, over two hundred feet of sea level rise are beginning to head our way as the planet attempts to achieve “heat balance” over the coming decades. This, after a century of mostly Western economies (now globalized) contamination of the ecosphere from carbonic acid gas (an economy with too much gas).

    Sounds like a national and international security threat to me. Has this state of affairs resulted from federal actions of heavily subsidizing mining companies and associated agendas? Nice to have so many presidential advisors connected to finance and mining (uranium and Exelon, clean coal and mountain destruction, methane and hydralic fracturing, and of course, peak oil and climate change impoverishment).

    So, let’s go atomic, like fifty years ago! We will all be saved, if a little irradiated and weaponized. Where is my nuclear bailout bucket? Pass the plutonium, scuba gear and legislative bill, please.

  5. paulm says:

    Have a look at this area in Alaska….


  6. James Lucarelli says:

    Whenever a global warming “advocate” make hysterical, exaggerated statements they always cherry pick the data that supports their position and portray the worst possible scenarios as inevitable events “if we don’t act immediately”. The truth is that warming, if it is indeed occurring, will proceed slowly and just may reverse itself. The true believers really aren’t sure but they won’t dare chance waiting and be proven wrong. Global warming advocates take advantage of the scientifically illiterate public (by the way smart, educated, intelligent people can be scientifically illiterate too) to scare them into believing that the end is near by skillfully morphing science fact, politics and opinion. For example they portray consensus as scientific fact and use they word “if” to imply inevitability. It was once the scientific “consensus” that the earth was the center of the universe until a skeptic named Galileo challenged the “consensus”. You know what happened to him? House arrest, labeled a heretic and a discredited career – until the facts corroborated the real truth.

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    James Lucarelli wrote: “The truth is that warming, if it is indeed occurring, will proceed slowly and just may reverse itself.”

    And you know that is the truth — how?

    Because you heard Rush Limbaugh say it?

    ExxonMobil pays phony “conservative” stooges like Rush Limbaugh millions of dollars to lie to you and deceive you — and you think it is scientists who are “taking advantage of the scientifically illiterate public”?

    You slavishly and unquestioningly believe whatever the phony “conservative” media tells you — and you call yourself a “skeptic”?

  8. LT says:

    Hi James(6)
    Your argument about Galileo is backwards. Galileo was one of the first scientists – one of the first to use evidence of what was in front of his nose (or telescope) to guide his investigations of the world and in doing that he stood, not against the “scientific consensus” of the day as you suggest, but against the faith based view of the universe held by the medieval church.

  9. I saw this report yesterday and it was disturbing, to say the least. Living in Florida and spending decades walking along the coastline the reality of rising sea levels isn’t merely speculation. There is plenty of evidence along Florida’s coastline that ecological zones are moving inland and the coastline is retreating.

    Not that it makes any difference to Florida’s politicians. The big political debate circa 2010 is whether Florida should allow oil drilling along the Florida’s coast. The oil industry is probably going to win that battle since Florida’s government is overwhelmingly Republican.

  10. JimS says:

    James – You’re missing some facts in your Galileo analogy.

    A group of ancient Greek philosophers (most prominently Aristarchus) proposed a heliocentric model more than 2000 years ago. They lost out to the geocentrist. So the idea wasn’t even new.

    In the ‘modern’ era Copernicus proposed the heliocentric model of the solar systm not Galileo. Galileo’s observations didn’t even really confirm heliocentricism. His discovery of Jupiter’s moons supported the idea (core to the heliocentric theory) that not every spatial body revolved around the earth. The Church didn’t like his support of the heliocentric theory and when he published in 1632 he was formally convicted of heresy (beliefs contrary to Scripture not Science).

    Johannes Kepler was the first to come up with a better view of the orbits (ellipses not circles) from Tycho Brae’s observations. But it was Newton who’s math and theory of gravity led to verification of the heliocentric model.

  11. Yvan Dutil says:

    Actually, heliocentrism was accepted long before Newton work. Within decades of Galileo and Kepler work, it became the standard thoery. It was not iuntil 1726, than Bradley confirmed the motion of the Earth from the observation of the aberration of light.

  12. Rikki (Australia) says:

    All off the point a little I think…

    In reply to James L…Basically, we have here yet more evidence that the projections of the scientists are on the money. The IPCC put in their caveat that their projections did NOT include the dynamic melting of our ice sheets. This latest report says they were right to think dynamic ice sheet melting would be a big influence on sea level rise. Undoubtly it will.

    Scientists are inherently conservative–won’t say anything without solid evidence. James, you had better start listening! All the pointers indicate warming is accelerating and is most unlikely to stop when we are pumping so much stuff into the air.


  13. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Give or take 5 years, James Hansen’s possible 5M rise by 2107 is starting to look pretty good.

  14. From Peru says:

    Galileo see the PHASES OF VENUS. This proved Venus orbits the Sun.

    So Galileo findings actually disproved the Tolemaic model.

    Then only remained the models of Tycho Brahe (all planets around the Sun, the Sun around the Earth) and Copernicus (heliocentric circular orbits).

    Both were wrong: the correct model was Kepler one (elliptic heliocentric orbits)

    Some centuries after, Jim Hansen and Carl Sagan were studying VENUS AGAIN, this time struggling to understand why it is (excluding the Sun, of course) the hottest place in the Solar System…

    A puzzle like:

    Albedo: 90% of solar radiation
    Atmospheric surface Pressure: 90 atmospheres
    Temperature: 480 ºC


    Well, then was the fundamentalist Christian Church, now the shameless Carbon-polluting Capitalists doing all they can to silence the science.

    Again, our Sister Planet VENUS is the trigger of Revolution…