The New York Times has taken warnings about global warming to a whole new level, publishing a three-part series suggesting a “potential apocalypse” from melting ice sheets if humans keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“If that ice sheet were to disintegrate, it could raise the level of the sea by more than 160 feet — a potential apocalypse, depending on exactly how fast it happened,” NYT reporter Justin Gillis wrote of what some scientists predict could happen to Antarctica.
Gillis points to recent research suggesting “the collapse of the ice sheet will become inevitable,” likening the projected 160-foot sea-level rise to flood stories from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Bible’s Old Testament.
“In the Epic of Gilgamesh, waters so overwhelm the mortals that the gods grow frightened, too,” Gillis wrote, “In India’s version, Lord Vishnu warns a man to take refuge in a boat, carrying seeds. In the Bible, God orders Noah to carry two of every living creature on his ark.”
“I don’t think the biblical deluge is just a fairy tale,” Terence Hughes, a retired glaciologist told Gillis. “I think some kind of major flood happened all over the world, and it left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of mankind that got preserved in these stories.”
“That flooding would have occurred at the end of the last ice age,” Gillis reported. Of course he left out the part about Antarctic ice sheet melting taking place over a couple thousands years.
Now, the research Gillis points to is a worst-scenario based on a Parallel Ice Sheet Model, as reported by scientists in a 2015 study. Models can be useful tools to test complex climate interactions, but they are still projections, not facts.
That 2015 study found “half the Antarctic ice sheet would melt or fall into the sea in the first thousand years” based on model projections, according to a previous NYT report.
The first installment of Gillis’s three-part series claimed Antarctica “may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration,” but later in the series admitted the glacier NYT reporters toured with scientists “seems stable now.”
Even so, the effects of any current global warming on Antarctica are unclear. The South Pole’s western ice sheet has been shedding mass for decades, but part of that has to do with underground volcanic activity and the fact the ice sheet rests on water.
Recent evidence suggests the Antarctic peninsula has been cooling since the late 1990s. A recent study found the region “has shifted from a warming trend of 0.32 °C/decade during 1979–1997 to a cooling trend of − 0.47 °C/decade during 1999–2014.”
Antarctica’s eastern ice sheet seems more stable, and may have even been gaining mass in recent decades.
A 2015 study by NASA found Antarctica’s ice sheet increased in mass from 1992 to 2008. The study found ice gains in Eastern Antarctica offset ice loss from the west.
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