"Investigating Climate Change in Antarctica"
Antarctica houses the mother lode of ice -- 90% percent of the Earth‚Äôs glacial ice is here. While East Antarctica seems constant, the coastline of West Antarctica is beginning to respond to global climate change. Warm ocean water is rapidly melting ice shelves along the edge of the Amundsen Sea, and the glaciers which feed into these ice shelves are accelerating. Scientists call the vast area west of the Transantarctic Mountains the ‚Äúweak underbelly,‚Äù because much of the ice sheet sits on bedrock that is below sea level. If this ice were to melt, it could raise sea level around the world from 6 to 16 feet. Will this process take less than a hundred years, or thousands? Over the eons, sea level has gone up and down. Since the last ice age peaked 20,000 years ago, sea level has risen 400 feet, but the rise has not been constant - sometimes it jumps suddenly. Over the past several years, I travelled to West Antarctica with glaciologists, oceanographers, and marine biologists funded by the National Science Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey. These photographs document their investigations into both glacial ice and sea ice.
Another group of scientists is investigating the feeding behavior of humpback whales on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Climate change is already in full swing there, with rates of change that are among the fastest on earth. The Peninsula has warmed an average of 6¬∞F in the past fifty years, and 10¬∞F in winter. Sea ice has declined by 40% along the WAP, and its duration is almost 3 months shorter. How is this effecting a top predator of the Southern Ocean?
Sunrise in late summer in the Amundsen Sea, one of the most difficult and least visited regions in the Southern Ocean. The large quantity of icebergs in this region are signs of a rapid loss of ice from West Antarctica's ice sheet. These massive tabular icebergs were created when they "calved," or broke off from ice shelves along the coast of Marie Byrd Land. More than any other body of ice on the globe, Antarctica could be the largest contributor to sea level rise.