Forget Leveson, the ice caps are melting

On Thursday 29th November 2012, the camera lenses, microphones and primed pencils of the British media were focused on the outcome of the Leveson enquiry. If you were watching the BBC News Channel, you would be forgiven for believing there was anything else happening in the world. Yet, the most worrying news of the day was that an international research project had produced conclusive estimates about the rate of melting of the polar ice sheets and its impact on sea levels.

Although both the BBC and Guardian pushed the story to the background of their websites, the announcement is a confirmation of dangerous development. Twenty research teams pooled their efforts to look at the rate of melting 1992-2011 and, most importantly, there is now one conclusive set of data.

The facts are striking:

  • Over 4 tonnes of sea ice from Antarctica and Greenland has melted in the last twenty years
  • Polar ice sheets have overall contributed 11.1mm to the rise in sea levels (the official findings suggest this could be +- 3.8mm)
  • Polar melting has contributed about 1/5 of the overall global sea level rise 1992-2011
  • On all the ice sheets, the combined rate of melting has increased

Rising sea levels pose long term threats to human civilisation. Not only will low-lying regions and cities be placed in immediate danger, but the potential changes to the pattern of warm water flows throughout the world’s oceans might increase the frequency of dangerous storms like super storm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina before her.

This new research does not make predictions about the future, but highlights a precarious, accelerating trend. Yet, what is even more frightening for our global civilisation, is that this vital news is not getting the coverage is needs. Despite the ongoing climate talks in Doha, climate change still cannot make the headlines.

You can read the published paper in Science here.

Photograph: 23am.com on flickr

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