Polar Melting May Signify Climate Transition

The day after the appearance of author Tim Flannery on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and the publication of my review of his book The Weather Makers and Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert in the Dallas Morning News, comes this news from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, that makes me wonder if the world’s climate has passed through a transition that Flannery might call a “magic gate.”

The NCAR news release headline reads “Arctic, Antarctic Melting May Raise Sea Levels Faster Than Expected,” and the article begins with these two paragraphs:

Ice sheets across both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century, according to two studies that blend computer modeling with paleoclimate records. The studies, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Arizona, show that Arctic summers by 2100 may be as warm as they were nearly 130,000 years ago, when sea levels eventually rose up to 20 feet (6 meters) higher than today.

Bette Otto-Bliesner (NCAR) and Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona) report on their new work in two papers appearing in the March 24 issue of Science. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s primary sponsor. The study also involved researchers from the universities of Calgary and Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Pennsylvania State University.

One of the most striking and novel claims in Flannery’s book is that the Earth has passed through two climate transitions or “magic gates” in the past 30 years and that more severe, rapid transitions lie ahead if people and governments do not act promptly. This news from NCAR makes me wonder if the unexpectedly large increase in polar melting signals that we have just passed through another such transition point.

See my review for more details on this and other important themes from both Flannery and Kolbert.

The full NCAR press release and images are available on the Web at http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases

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