From being a popular tourist destination (IAATO estimates the numbers of visitors expected in the upcoming 2015-2016 will be an astonishing 40,029) to the actual warming temperatures in the sea and air, Antarctica is hotter than ever. And this doesn’t bode well for the future of the continent or the planet.
While on one hand, the increasing tourism could be a very positive thing — but only if visitors return from Antarctica with a new vision of climate change and a commitment to do their part. On the other hand, the more feet on the ground in Antarctica, the more strain on the wildlife and native landscape. (Click here to check out John Oliver’s hilarious anti-tourism PSA).
And regarding the melting of the ice sheet, this article in OnEarth Magazine puts it very well:
If you want to cook something quickly, you heat it from both sides. This is the genius of the toaster. That’s what’s happening to the West Antarctic ice sheet—with alarming consequences…Think of it as the world’s largest panini press.
In addition to news about the geothermal energy melting the ice from the water below, as well as from the warming temperatures above, is the appearance of king crabs in Antarctica — a species that until 2003 had previously been unable to survive in Antarctica’s icy waters. Now, as this article in The Conversation notes, “[t]hey are seemingly marching up the continental slope and towards the continental shelf, with nothing to stop them…In the Antarctic, the native inhabitants are particularly at risk. These animals have evolved without any major predators for millions of years.”
And this week, former NASA scientist James Hansen has announced a study that outlines a scenario of rapid sea level rise as well as intense storms. As the Washington Post reports:
“If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters,” the new paper says.
It’s all frightening news, and it’s only getting more urgent. So what can we do?
- Visit sites like Antarctic Alliance, Penguin Sentinels, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to learn about what dangers the oceans face and how to protect the seas and their creatures.
- Watch films. A few eye-opening examples include Cowspiracy, which exposes one of the leading causes of climate change; Chasing Ice; and this episode of HBO’s Vice.
- Be as green as you can, in whatever ways you can (from food to recycling to water use), and vote with the future of the planet in mind.