How fast is the West Antarctica warming? The question has stirred controversy, enough that David Bromwich of Ohio State University and colleagues launched an effort to find the answer. They reported their findings this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, concluding that the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.3 degrees since 1958. That’s a disturbing rate of twice as much as scientists had thought and three times the rate of overall global warming.
No doubt, the findings will face scrutiny, the scientific method requiring as much. What should be stressed is that the work represents a marked improvement over past efforts.
If this seems an odd time to raise the subject of the warming planet, this part of the country just belted by a snowstorm, remember that no single weather event tells the story. Better to track the trends. The report relayed that temperatures above freezing, once unheard of at Antarctica, have become more frequent, one region experiencing more than 25 days in 2005.
That follows the retreat of ice elsewhere, from the Himalayas to Alaska, Greenland to Peru. The surface melting in West Antarctica joins with melting at the edges by warming ocean waters to raise sea levels around the globe. The impact may be gradual, yet it is accelerating, and hardly requiring a great leap of imagination to arrive at the potential for drastic consequences. Once again, the risk invites an insurance policy, adapting to the change and, better, acting to slow the warming.