• Antero Ollila

Iceberg syndrome again: Totten Glacier melting and causing a 6 meter rise in global sea levels – oop

An US newspaper Daily Mail has published through its online version MailOnline a report on 26 January 2015 by Sarah Griffiths that East Antarctica’s largest glacier Totten is melting. According to this news a group of Australian scientists have found surrounding waters 1.5 C warmer than expected. Totten Glacier is 120 km long and 30 km wide. According to this news this amount of water would cause a 6 meter rise in global sea levels.

That sounds really bad, but even worse is coming, straight quotation in italics: “West Antarctic is melting at triple the rate it was a decade ago. The Amundsen Sea has long been thought to be the weakest ice sheet in the West Antarctic. Last month a US study suggested the barren region is haemorrhaging ice at a rate triple that of a decade ago. Researchers believe that the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica may be irreversible.”

These kinds of news come up all the time. They contain three common features: the news is based on the study of scientists, there is at least one (massive) error in facts (6 meter rise), and finally there is a dreadful future scenario based on imagination (irreversible glacier melting of Antarctic). Let us see what the facts are.

Because the average height of Totten is about 50 meters, the total volume above the sea level is 18 km^3. The total area of oceans is 20 327 000 km^2. Therefore the total water amount of Totten can cause only a 9 mm rise in global sea levels. The actual photo of Totten Glacier is copied from the Google Maps and it is easy to see that it is parting from the continent or/and melting.

The largest iceberg on record is an Antarctic tabular iceberg of over 31 000 square kilometres (335 by 97 kilometres) sighted 240 km west of Scott Island, in the South Pacific Ocean, by the USS Glacier on November 12, 1956. This iceberg was larger than Belgium. It means that this is a normal phenomenon and it has also happened in during the colder periods of the Earth. There have been no reported harmful (or even observed) effects of sea level rise of this size of iceberg even though it was 10 times bigger than Totten.

Actually scientists have not been able to find out, why the sea ice extension on the southern hemisphere has been growing and now it is larger than ever during the whole measurement history. One explanation could be that cold sea currents isolate Antarctic from the warmer waters. On the northern hemisphere the warm Golf current can penetrate under the Arctic Ocean’s ice cover and cause melting. Because the sea water temperature has increased during the period from 1980 to 1998, it has caused the decrease of ice extension. Now the sea water temperature increase has paused and the ice extension has started to grow again.

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