By José María Figueres
Mr. Figueres is a former president of Costa Rica and served as chief executive of the World Economic Forum.
This week, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, comprising 24 nations and the European Union, is meeting in Hobart, Australia, to consider proposals to protect three areas off Antarctica’s coast totaling 1.2 million square miles. Plans for marine reserves off East Antarctica, which offer critical habitat to emperor and Adélie penguins, and in the Weddell Sea, which would shelter whales and penguins, have been on the table for several years, blocked so far by Russia and China. Both of those areas also harbor cold-water corals, glass sponges and other creatures found nowhere else on earth.
Now, a new proposal is up for consideration to establish a marine sanctuary surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet and the Peninsula region is facing multiple pressures, including climate change variability, an increase in tourism as well as intense fishing for krill, which has led to starvation among some populations of penguins.
. . . .
Antarctica’s land mass has proved forbidding since humans first set foot on the continent, but the sea is swarming with life critical to the planet. Indeed, blooms of algae, which supply oxygen to the atmosphere, can be seen from space. And krill, another fundamental cog in the ecosystem that feeds whales, seals, penguin and many fish, have recently been found to behave in a way that accelerates the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The ecologist Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey, who documented this phenomenon, said the finding “could equate to krill sequestering 23 million tonnes of carbon to the deep sea each year, equivalent to annual” residential emissions of greenhouse gases from Britain.
Yet these links are fragile. Sylvia Earle, the marine biologist and explorer and member of the conservation group Antarctica 2020, said: “Where we’re headed right now is not very encouraging for mankind. We continue to chew away and carve away at the systems that generate oxygen and capture carbon and maintain the chemistry of the planet that works in our favor.”
“Two of the frozen continent’s fastest-moving glaciers are shedding an increasing amount of ice into the Amundsen Sea each year.
The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are among the most critical in the world. They are currently holding back ice that, if melted, would raise the world’s oceans by nearly four feet over centuries, an amount that would put many coastal cities underwater.”
Here is a comment, so excellent, it makes the comments section of the NYTimes.com famous. I strongly recommend that you look at the video link below from NASA on how the ice melt from Antarctica is expected to proceed.
Good article. I’m a scientist and very familiar with the topic.
Yes, if the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers melt (along with several other much smaller glaciers next to them), sea level will rise about 4 feet world wide.
Here is a great short 2 minute video from NASA illustrating in more detail what’s happening in this area of the West Antarctic ice sheet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQMtb1Pd07E&src_vid=Adh86ma3oxw&…
If all the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector melts, sea level would rise about 12 feet. That may take several centuries, but there is a reasonable probability that’s where we are headed if we don’t change energy paradigms very soon.
Lastly, climate change deniers have opinions, but no scientific credibility. It’s best to go with the best consensus science we have today, and the plausible concerns scientists have regarding likely serious impacts in the future. Some already happening as we speak.
It’s unlikely at present, but for perspective if all of the ice over Antarctica were to melt, sea level would rise about 200 feet. We’re not headed toward that extreme yet, but it’s worth noting for those interested.