Why Not Even Michael Phelps Could Keep Up with Global Warming

Recent data has shown that the loss of ice in the Greenland ice sheet alone amounts to over 110 million Olympic swimming pools filled right to the brim. A Facebook user replied to this revelation by commenting that we should get busy building swimming pools, which might become a good argument for the global warming deniers that, believe it or not, still seem to exist. The seriousness of this revelation is of course much less humorous than that and these increasingly massive ice losses will accumulate to aggravate sea level rises and the destruction of habitable land. Moreover, the spiral of heat records and ice loss will have consequences for all of humanity and lead to the inevitable destruction of our planet.


Source : National Snow & Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

Putting things into perspective is massively important in mediatising the battle against climate change and encouraging radical political change. While we can’t put our head around 110 million Olympic swimming pools this timely comparison by The Guardian grabs our attention and is relatable. No one will repeat the figure of 270 Gigatonnes per year to their friends and colleagues but the comparison to Olympic swimming pools (and the inevitable question: What time could Phelps do it in?) grabs our attention.

Second largest ice sheet in the world could make sea levels rise dramatically
– with catastrophic consequences for humanity

The Greenland ice sheet is the second largest of its kind in the world. It contains massive amounts of water and is generally about two kilometres thick (although it can reach 3km at its thickest). With an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres it covers most of the surface of Greenland. To put such huge numbers into perspective it is interesting to know that the water contained in it would make sea levels rise by over 7 metres worldwide.

In his book from the early 90s, “Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit”, Al Gore predicted catastrophic consequences for humanity if this huge body of ice were ever to start melting. Now, his predictions are becoming reality.

Once the big melt has begun, the rate of ice loss will (and already is) grow exponentially and a chain reaction will start that cannot be controlled. This knock on effect is aggravated by so called melt ponds which form on the ice as meltwater gathers. As these ponds are much darker than the surrounding water they absorb more heat from the sun and increase the melt rate in the surrounding area.

Satellite imagery is used to measure the impact of global warming. The images provide information about ice density and structure as well as the obvious indicator of ice sheet size. A recently published study by MacMillan et al. uses images provided by ESAs cryostat-2 satellite to estimate the average ice loss in recent years to about 270 Gigatonnes per year. This geophysical research will contribute to the mountain of academic truths and global realities making political change more urgent than ever.


Author: Joseph Thomas Roseveare



MacMillan et al., A high-resolution record of Greenland mass balance, Geophysical Research Letters, Creative Commons licence

TheGuardian.co.uk :

Climate Reality Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/climatereality/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf

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