Melting Greenland fuels sea level rise

Feature story - 17 February, 2006
Greenland's glaciers are melting even faster than previously thought and contributing more and more to sea level rise caused by global warming. If you live near the sea and think global warming isn't a problem for you, it's probably time to think again.

A huge lake of melt water on top of a Greenland Glacier. The melting glaciers are fuelling sea level rise.

The latest reports on increased levels of glacial discharge, in the journal

Science

, reports the amount of ice being dumped into the ocean from the GreenlandIce Sheet has doubled in the last 5 years. Scientists had thought thatglobal warming did not yet significantly threaten the ice sheet and itwould take over a thousand years to break down.

A full breakdown wouldresult in a catastrophic global sea level rise of 7 meters. That's bye-byemost of Bangladesh, Netherlands, Florida and would make London the newAtlantis.

The new evidence indicates the sheet is disintegrating quicker thanexpected, and backs up our discovery of a disturbingly fast retreat of the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier from our expedition there in 2005.

Sea level rise, caused by melting ice from Greenland and other glaciersacross the world, is already threatening some of the most vulnerablecommunities in the world - small island states in the Pacific andIndian Oceans, in Bangladesh as well as the hundreds of millions livingin low-lying coastal areas around the world.

Already, the first global warming refugees are preparing to leave theirhomes. In November of last year the Papua New Guinea government decidedto start moving ten families at a time from the horseshoe-shapedCarteret atolls in the Pacific to Bougainville, a larger island some 60miles away. The Carterets are only 1.5 metres high and areprojected to be completely uninhabitable by 2015.

Scientists are concerned -- but politicians are not taking action.How much more evidence do we need before we begin taking steps to avoidcatastrophe? The USAdministration and Australian Government continue to block effectiveinternational action, other world leaders talk a lot about globalwarming but avoid action because it might cost too much. But is thecost of NewOrleans and half of Florida being under water an acceptable price forAmerica's oil addiction, President Bush?

If our leaders won't jump, it's up to every one of us totake positive action to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.We can all take some, or, even better, all, of our suggested 12 steps to help the climate. Ifpossible, buy your energy from a renewable energy supplier. If yourpolitician doesn't act on global warming - vote for someone else whowill.

Only when politicians feel the heat from voters will governments shifttheir investments from dirty fossil fuel technologies to clean,renewable energy sources that do not cause glaciers to melt, seas torise and more people to die from increased extreme weather events. We cannotwait for an illusory 'silver bullet' of future technology to 'solve'the problem. We have the tools to start; what we are missing is thepolitical will.

Even in the US, inactionon global warming at the top is being met by change from below: cities, churches,businesses, trade unions, students and the general public are notwaiting for the White House to wake up - theUS renewable energy industry is booming, almost half of US states and200 cities have either adopted renewable energy targets or have pledged to meettheir own 'Kyoto' commitments through action taken locally.

What's needed is an energy revolution -- one which overturns theancient fossil fuel regime and brings forth a new vision. Revolutions don'tcome from the top. They come from the people. The cost ofinaction is, quite literally, the Earth.

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