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Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Antarctica (Land): photographed March 2008.

The continent is important to any assessment of climate change risks because of the role the polar regions appear to have as drivers of global climate.  One of the biggest concerns for climate scientists is the potential for reaching a tipping point on one of several climate feedback loops that are triggered by melting of the ice caps (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chapter 15, p.661-662).  These feedback loops could reach a point where the climate regime begins rapid and uncontrollable change (e.g.: more warming causes more melting which causes greater decrease in the earth’s ability to reflect heat which in turn causes more warming, etc.)  Evidence for such relatively rapid changes exists on the historical climate record.

“Neither Antarctica nor the sub-Antarctic islands have permanent human populations; the vast majority of residents are staff at scientific stations and summer-only visitors,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Despite the presence of nearly 5,000 scientists on the Antarctic continent and some 45,000 tourists a year, the place remains a mystery, where, in the words of W.S. Merwin, one is “caught in the magnetism of great silence.”  Even now scientists understand very little about how changes such as observed melting in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will affect climate in the future.

For example, from a recent study:  “In recent decades the Antarctic Peninsula and some surrounding ocean areas have warmed faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere... Sea ice duration in Maxwell Bay, King George Island decreased from six to three months over 1968-2008, and thickness of the fast ice near Bellingshausen station decreased from 90 to 30 cm over the same period…  The rapid climate changes across the Antarctic Peninsula are altering ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.”  Yet, scientists do not yet know the full implications of these changes.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXII: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXI: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLII: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXX: Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXX: Antarctica, 2008