Archive for the 'arctic ice' Category

Aug 24 2009

THE ICE MELTS – HUMANS SQUABBLE

OK so maybe now you will believe us – us small folk you think are so cute. The ice is melting. What have we been telling you? The ice is melting.

Down here. Up there. In Montana. In Europe. In South America. In Asia.

Melting faster than you thought. Or wanted to admit.

Go to the BBC: see the pictures.

This is Antarctica, our home:

Calculations based on the rate of melting 15 years ago had suggested the glacier would last for 600 years. But the new data points to a lifespan for the vast ice stream of only another 100 years.

Professor Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University says this about the melting ice:

This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We’ve known that it’s been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier.

Now similar things are happening up north in the Arctic.

Professor Jason Box of Ohio State University, has been studying the melting ice up north with Greenpeace. He has been surprised by the lack of significant ice they encountered in the Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada.

According to the BBC: “He has also set up time lapse cameras to monitor the massive Petermann glacier. Huge new cracks have been observed and it’s expected that a major part of it could break off imminently:

The science community has been surprised by how sensitive these large glaciers are to climate warming. First it was the glaciers in south Greenland and now as we move further north in Greenland we find retreat at major glaciers. It’s like removing a cork from a bottle.

So you are finally seeing the melting ice. But what exactly are some of you doing about it. Banding together to finally confront global warming? Taxing your use of carbon?

How about fighting each other to take advantage of the melting ice? Now that sounds like human beings

The more the ice melts the easier it is to send ships through the North. Russia, Canada, Denmark and the United States all have a strong interest in controlling the northern route. The Russians are having training exercises and firing missiles; the Canadian government is sending its politicians to show how much they care about the far north. Everybody is planting their flags on the ice.

Nobody is asking the polar bears.

Nobody is asking the penguins.



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Apr 08 2009

POLAR MELT TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

Forgive us for being out-of-touch for so long. We’ve just completed a 100-day workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation on Polar Melt Traumatic Stress Disorder PMTSD.

Thanks to Angela Schrimsky and Donald-Peter Fredricksen of the Avian Therapy Center for leading the group.


Unfortunately while we were talking, a large portion of the Wilkins Ice Shelf broke off from the Antarctic mainland confirming the most dire predictions about the climate crisis. We have though, thanks to our talented workshop leaders, learned some very interesting meditation techniques. Not to mention the chanting exercises: “Om melt melt melt; Om drip drip drip … ”


Now if only Angela and Donald-Peter could do something about our melting home.


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Larsen B Ice Shelf – Photo: Mariano Caravaca



It is not easy to watch the ice melt around you. It is not easy to see your home in danger. To know your fellow penguins may not survive.


The other day, the American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about ways to protect the polar regions:

Clinton said the recent collapse of an Antarctic ice bridge was a stark reminder that the poles are gravely threatened by climate change and human activity.
“With the collapse of an ice bridge that holds in place the Wilkins Ice Shelf, we are reminded that global warming has already had enormous effects on our planet and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis,” she told the first-ever joint meeting of Antarctic Treaty parties and the Arctic Council at the State Department in Baltimore.
The bridge linking the Wilkins shelf to Antarctica’s Charcot and Latady Islands snapped on Saturday after two large chunks of it fell away last year. The shelf had been stable for most of the last century before it began retreating in the 1990s.



And we have recently received word for our friends up north that the arctic ice. As William Marsden reported for the Montreal Gazette::

In the summer of 2007, a large portion of Arctic Sea ice – about 40 per cent – simply vanished. That wasn’t supposed to happen. At least not yet. As recent as 2004, scientists had predicted it would take another 50 to 100 years for that much ice to melt. Yet here it was happening today.



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Measuring Arctic Ice – Photo: Martin Hartley, Reuters



Hopefully, Schrimsky and Fredricksen will be heading there to do a workshop.
Unfortunately the Arctic Nations are now arguing about who has control over the ice and melting ice and the resources that will soon be easily to get to as the ice recedes.


And for all the talk about making the shift to renewable resources and away from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, Jad Mouawad of the New York Times reported on April 8, 2009:

The Obama administration wants to reduce oil consumption, increase renewable energy supplies and cut carbon dioxide emissions in the most ambitious transformation of energy policy in a generation.
But the world’s oil giants are not convinced that it will work. Even as Washington goes into a frenzy over energy, many of the oil companies are staying on the sidelines, balking at investing in new technologies favored by the president, or even straying from commitments they had already made.

Royal Dutch Shell said last month that it would freeze its research and investments in wind, solar and hydrogen power, and focus its alternative energy efforts on biofuels. The company had already sold much of its solar business and pulled out of a project last year to build the largest offshore wind farm, near London.
BP, a company that has spent nine years saying it was moving “beyond petroleum,” has been getting back to petroleum since 2007, paring back its renewable program. And American oil companies, which all along have been more skeptical of alternative energy than their European counterparts, are studiously ignoring the new messages coming from Washington.

Already one penguin species has been named by the US EPA as endangered and 5 other species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to the EPA:

The penguin species recommended for endangered status is the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), of South Africa and Namibia … The five species recommended for threatened status are: the yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes), the white-flippered penguin (Eudyptula minor albosignata), the Fiordland crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), the erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri), all from New Zealand, as well as the Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) of Chile and Peru.

They have solicited more scientific information about the:

effects of climate change and changing ocean, land or sea ice conditions on the distribution and abundance of these penguin species and their principal prey species over the short and long term (especially information on known prey substitutions and their effects on the penguins …

If only they had attended our workshop!


What can we say except: “Om melt melt melt; Om drip drip drip … ”
All together now:
“Om melt melt melt; Om drip drip drip … ”



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Jun 30 2008

CLIMATE CRIMINALS?

Things are heating up – a penguin joke. James Hansen testified before Congress 20 years after his famous warning about Global Warming. Famous, at least, for penguins and polar bears.

If I told you only two Congresspeople showed up to hear one of the world’s greatest experts talk about a threat that could end human civilization as you know it would you laugh or cry? Human civilization. Some of us consider that yet another penguin joke.

After reading Hansen’s testimony, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times posted his comments beneath the following headline: “Are Big Oil and Big Coal Climate Criminals?

[Hansen] said everything he has been saying for years: unabated warming would erode the ice sheets, flood coastal cities and drive many species into extinction.

But there was a much discussed recommendation in both his oral presentation and a written statement he prepared beforehand: that the heads of oil and coal companies who knowingly delayed action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions were committing a crime. “These CEO’s, these captains of industry,” he said in the briefing, “in my opinion, if they don’t change their tactics they’re guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.


Adelie Penguins – Photo: Heidi N. Geisz



From the penguin perspective, you humans have some odd ideas about crime. You can imprison a man or a woman for stealing money from a grocery store, but you seem to turn away from the larger crimes: destroying the Amazon forest, allowing the glaciers to melt, allowing species after species to disappear.

You are the smart ones, after all. Fire, the atom, the Space Shuttle, the iPod.

And now you seem to turn away from the obvious.

James Hansen terms it the “global cataclysm:”

He testified:

Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that
absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change. Polar and alpine
species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues. Other species attempt to migrate, but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse. Mass extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase. Biodiversity recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years.


Weddell Seal under the ice – Photo: Getty


A kind lady wrote to us recently kindly suggesting that we use too many words. That humans have a short attention span. That if we wanted to get our point across we needed to be more like television. What, we wondered, would that look like? How about: The End Is Near! Or maybe: “You’re Killing Us All!”

While we all think about the perfect 30 second spot, how about you think more about what Dr. Hansen has to say:

The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.



Like his very smart carbon tax, Hansen offered some clear ideas for action:

We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly.

Now I imagine many of you are looking for climate criminal part. Are you ready?

Hansen continues:

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

What is the term you humans use? Oh yeah, we penguins are interested parties. Count us among those “countless species” who can lose.

I guess the question for you how much are a bunch of polar bears or a bunch of penguins worth? And if corporate greed and your need for a carbon economy kills us, are any of you quilty?

James Hansen calls it a high crime against humanity. Polar bears would call it a high crime against polar bears. And we’d call it a high crime against penguins. All of us would call it a high crime against nature.





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Jan 18 2008

PENGUINS: ON THIN ICE

If you are reading this, it’s probably because you have been thinking about penguins, or about global warming and climate change, maybe wondering how we are doing, or maybe about your future.

These are scary and complicated times for all of us.

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Adélie 422 walking – Photo: Geroge F. Mobley



The news down South is not very good. And for that matter, it’s even worse up North. I’ll talk about that in just a minute. But there’s one thing that really confuses me. Now that I’m surfing the web – interesting choice of words for a penguin – I read a lot of newspaper reports about the climate crisis. And, of course, the comments that readers post. Have you ever taken the time to read those comments?

So many of you humans are so very angry. You’re angry at the newspaper for printing the reports. You’re angry at your scientists for telling you about rising levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, rising sea levels and melting ice. About disappearing glaciers. Check it out: angry comment after angry comment.

What’s going on? Is it so very hard to acknowledge what is happening before your very eyes? Here’s a picture of the Boulder Glacier in Glacier National Park in Montana, US in 1932.

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And a photo taken in 2005:

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It’s gone. Do you want to blame the scientists?

Is it so very hard to understand that the Earth is paying a price for all the coal you burn to keep your cities lit so bright? When did you become so afraid of the dark? Is it so very hard to understand that there is a price to be paid for the SUVs you drive to the malls you shop in? Where is it written in your holy books that each man and woman needs to have a car, two cars, three? That it is too much of an inconvenience to ride together in buses and train and trolleys? That you need second homes and motor boats and private airplanes?


Anyway here’s a quick update of the latest news. Antarctica, our home, our ice is melting. TV3 in New Zealand reports:

The ice shelves of Antarctica are collapsing faster than scientists could ever have predicted, loosened by warming climate conditions – warm air and warm water is compromising the existence of the entirety of the Antarctic ice sheet as global temperatures rise.

Dozens of ice shelves are steadily breaking apart – three major ice shelves have disintegrated in recent times, one of which taking mere days to collapse …

During the last 15 years, almost 90% of the glaciers observed by scientists in Antarctica have shown significant levels of retreat.



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Adelie penguins – Photo: Frans Lemmens



Our dear friends, the Adélies, founding members of Penguins United, are in deep trouble. The melting ice is a matter of life and death for the Adélies. A National Geographic headline asks “Antartica’s Adelie Extinct in a Decade?”

Adélie penguins in Antarctica are in the midst of a major upheaval as climate change causes their icy habitat to warm up, experts say.

Some populations of the birds are thriving, but most are declining rapidly.

The penguins rely on winter sea ice as a platform for feeding on ocean krill.

But they also need the ice to shrink in the summer so they can access their breeding colonies on land.

The mid-latitudes of the Antarctic Peninsula once provided the perfect habitat for the penguins—but not anymore.

“That region has experienced the most rapid warming during winter on the planet,” said Bill Fraser, an ecologist with the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana.

“The mid-winter temperatures are now around 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit [6 degrees Celsius] higher than they were 50 years ago.”



Help the Adélies. Save the Ice. Save our Home.





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Dec 18 2007

BALI, SCHMALI

Well there is the small victory to celebrate at Bali – the U.S. was frightened enough by the threatened boycott of its January conference to refrain from preventing an agreement.

But from the point of view of the rest of the world – the non-humans of this world – it was pretty sad. It is very disappointing to penguins around the world that after so much talk, the best you humans can come up with is an “agreement” for a “new framework” for two more years of talk.


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Emperors – Photo: AFP



Meanwhile during the Bali conference, we learned from new studies that 4 species of penguin are in great peril, the Arctic ice is melting far faster than any of your scientists predicted, carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 650,000 years and that our coral reefs are in danger.


George Monbiot pointed out how little has changed by quoting the following:

“After 11 days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could even lead to emission increases. The highly compromised political deal is largely attributable to the position of the United States, which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests. The failure to reach agreement led to the talks spilling over into an all-night session.”

These are extracts from a press release by Friends of the Earth. So what? Well it was published on December 11 – I mean to say, December 11 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto protocol … Its climate negotiators were led by Albert Arnold Gore.

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then the Americans did something worse: they destroyed the whole agreement.



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Moon above Feegletscher, Switzerland – Photo: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini



As for Bali, Monbiot declares:

There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol. It contains no targets and no dates.



While the climate negotiators were negotiating, this is some of what we learned. It was a very bad year for walruses. The AP reports:

In what some scientists see as another alarming consequence of global warming, thousands of Pacific walruses above the Arctic Circle were killed in stampedes earlier this year after the disappearance of sea ice caused them to crowd onto the shoreline in extraordinary numbers …

”It was a pretty sobering year — tough on walruses,” said Joel Garlach-Miller, a walrus expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Dead walruses, Arctic Circle – Photo: A Kochnev/AP

Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a ”haulout” for a century, scientists said.

Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.


And as the ice melts and thins, the polar bears suffer. The polar bears die. Paul Richards of AFP writes that climate change has reduced the time polar bears can hunt for the food they need.


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Polar bear and cubs, Hudson Bay – Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP


“For many years, there were 1,600 to 2,200 of our polar bears, called the western Hudson Bay sub-population,” Bonnie Chartier, a Churchill native who works as a guide for tour groups who come to this northern town to spot the world’s largest bear, told AFP.

“Now they’re saying there are about 965. Boom! In a very short span of time, we have a much smaller population and this has been attributed to global warming,” she said.

Polar bears are carnivores, and the seals that live in the Hudson Bay are their favorite meal.

They hunt when the bay is frozen, venturing far out on the thick ice and waiting patiently for a seal to pop its head out of the water for air.

They spend the part of the year when the bay is not frozen on land, fasting.

“In the last 20 years, our bears have been coming off the ice two weeks earlier and going out about one week later, so you’ve taken three weeks’ hunting time out of their diet, including the crucial spring weeks, when seals are pupping. Seal pups are easier prey for the polar bears,” Chartier said.

“The bears are having a harder time. They’re not able to put on enough weight to carry themselves through the whole fasting season,” she said.



As the politicians were arguing, we also discovered that thanks to climate change the oceans are rising faster than scientists predicted. The BBC reports on a study published by the journal, Nature Geoscience:

The world’s sea levels could rise twice as high this century as UN climate scientists have previously predicted, according to a study.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century.

But in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64in).

They looked at what happened more than 100,000 years ago – the last time Earth was this warm.

The results join other studies showing that current sea level projections may be very conservative.

Sea level rise is a key effect of global climate change. There are two major contributory effects: expansion of sea water as the oceans warm, and the melting of ice over land.



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Kangerdlussuaq Glacier, East Greenland – Photo: J A Dowdeswell


All this while humans talk and talk and talk.


It’s enough to drive a penguin batty.


Bali, Schmali.





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