HAPPY ANTARCTICA DAY (for Friday, Dec. 1)!
On December 1st, 1959, the nations of the world came together to sign the Antarctic Treaty, which says that “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.” To me, Antarctica is ever a sign of hope—that humanity can work together for good.
But this year’s Antarctica Day was especially momentous. Yesterday, the world’s largest marine reserve came into effect. The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area covers 598,000 square miles and was created by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—the 24-nation body overseeing Antarctic waters. Cause for celebration indeed!
“Over the past 30 years I’ve seen the devastating impacts of over-fishing and climate change on our oceans,” said Lewis. “If we allow the Ross Sea to go the same way, its unique riches may be lost forever. My hope is that these symbolic swims will bring the beauty and wonder of Antarctica into the hearts and homes of people around the world so they will urge their governments to protect this unique ecosystem, which is truly a polar Garden of Eden.”
Thank you for your tireless and extraordinary efforts, Lewis Pugh!
This week, I also met with filmmakers Stephen Smith and Diana Kushner to talk about their Enduring Ice project. With a very small team, they undertook an incredible adventure in the Arctic this past summer to draw attention to the importance of Arctic sea ice for balancing our climate.
Starting only 500 miles from the North Pole, in three kayaks, they paddled and portaged south between the Canadian and Greenland coasts to make their upcoming documentary. I will be sharing my full interview with Diana and Steve soon.
I salute and am inspired by Pugh, Smith, Kushner, and their support teams—remarkable people working tirelessly for our vital polar regions.
Meanwhile in the Arctic, a new international agreement closed the Central Arctic Ocean—1.1 million square miles—to fishing for 16 years so that adequate research may be carried out to determine if commercial fishing would be sustainable.
After 16 years, the pact will increase in 5-year increments, unless science-based limits on fishing and management are adopted or a country objects.
So, it’s been a great week for conservation of our polar regions!
Kevin Pluck has produced another excellent animation showing the decline in global sea ice extent (since first satellite records to present).
The freeze up in the Arctic is proceeding slowly:
And sea ice extent is low:
This week also saw abnormally warm weather in parts of the Arctic.
Antarctic sea ice is also lower than normal:
The Weddell polynya (an area of open water within the sea ice) is still in existence.
Melting sea ice could mess up deep sea chemistry.
And why, in a warming world, does Antarctic sea appear to be increasing in places?
Glaciers & Ice Shelves
NASA’s Operation IceBridge continues to provide spectacular images from Antarctica. One of my favorites this week over the Ross Ice Shelf:
The largest glacier in East Antarctica, the Totten glacier, is melting:
The iceberg formerly known as B-44, which calved from Pine Island Glacier—Antarctica’s fastest melting glacier—back in September and then quickly broke up, has further disintegrated.
Scientists are concerned because they’re seeing a change in the calving pattern and in the glacier’s advance and retreat. An ice shelf is a platform of floating ice that forms where a glacier or ice sheet floats to the coastline and onto the sea’s surface. Dr. Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey says,
“If the ice shelf continues to thin and the ice front continues to retreat, its buttressing effect on PIG will diminish, which is likely to lead to further dynamic thinning and retreat of the glacier. PIG already makes the largest contribution to sea-level rise of any single Antarctic glacier and the fact that its bed increases in depth upstream for more than 200 km means there is the possibility of runway retreat that would result in an even bigger contribution to sea level.”
A very large iceberg also broke off Chile’s Grey Glacier.
A study led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and co-authored by an international team of researchers analyzed 90 blogs that cover climate change. 50% were science-based and 50% were climate change denier blogs, and these two groups had very different opinions on polar bears and Arctic sea ice extent.
First author Jeff Harvey from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology said,
“We found a major gap between the facts from scientific literature and the science-based blogs on one hand, versus the opinions ventilated in climate-change denying blogs on the other.”
They found that about 80% of the denier blogs relied on a single denier blog as their source. This source blog was written by a single author who had not conducted any original research or published articles in peer-reviewed literature. They found a lack of evidence and expertise, as well as personal attacks against researchers, are common among such climate change denial blogs. Jeff Harvey said,
“This is a very dangerous gap, as these blogs are read by millions.”
This week, to celebrate Antarctica Day and the Ross Sea Marine Protection Act, I ran a competition. I asked people to tell me why Antarctica is important. I got some excellent responses, which I will post in the next few days. Thank you to everyone who participated! You will all be receiving a large postcard print of my Gentoo penguin piece at the top of this post.
As always, I am not a scientist, but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice. I welcome input and corrections by polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience.