Our Earth is changing. Due to the pressures of an increasingly warming global climate, glacial ice is declining at a worrying rate. As the ice melts, sea levels rise in a way that will mean big things for coastal cities and the millions of people who inhabit them.
It appeared to be a breath of fresh air, then, as a NASA-funded study announced this week that Antarctic ice was gaining mass faster than it is declining, but like all climate-related research, there's more than initially meets the eye. The research was led by Jay Zwally of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, with the findings reported in the Journal of Glaciology in an open access format.
The results of this study refute parts of a report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that overall, Antarctica is losing ice. Indeed, ice sheet collapse in Western Antarctica, in particular, has been receiving a great deal of attention recently. According to satellite data in the NASA study, however, the mass of the Antarctic ice has been gaining more than it has been losing.
"We're essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica," Zwally explained in a statement for NASA. "Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica — there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas."
While it would be fantastic news if glacial ice in Antarctica were increasing at a rate that would indicate that climate change was slowing, that doesn't appear to be the case.
While ice may be growing in the eastern region of Australia, global sea levels are still increasing, which indicates that massive ice loss is still occurring elsewhere in the world. Additionally, the rate of the ice gain is slowing down, while the rate of the loss is picking up the pace. In a few decades, the rate of loss will exceed the gains if nothing is done to combat this trend.
Climate change is an incredibly complex and multifaceted issue, but one thing that is undeniable is that we can no longer pretend it isn't happening. The current state of affairs demands our attention, as it is only when we see things as they really are that we can make meaningful steps toward changing things for the better.
The silver lining from these results is that things aren't currently as bad as they were believed to be, which could potentially buy us some time to curb the rate of the loss. Additionally, it could give Antarctic animal populations more time to adapt to the changing environment.
Scientists are currently hard at work, trying to find ways to geoengineer a solution to the problem. This includes attempts to promote the creation of cloud cover as well as facilitating the escape of heat under polar ice. It's a bold attempt, but with enough public support for funding, great things will happen.
(Header image: NASA's Operation Ice Bridge)