Jordan Candler / July 13, 2015

Who Knew? Geothermal Heat Driving West Antarctic Ice Melt

Last week, a team of scientists partaking in Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD), a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, divulged what they view as a groundbreaking discovery behind what’s driving ice melt along the western periphery of Antarctica. Unsurprising to us, but admittedly unexpected to them, it turns out one of the contributing factors has nothing to do with anthropogenic activity. Yet somehow the gloomy long-term outlook remains unaltered. According to lead researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, a “surprisingly high” level of geothermal heating (in layman’s terms, natural warming) underneath the ice surface is contributing to ice melt on the West Antarctic ice shelf — an area scientists have long singled out because it’s the only quadrant of the South Pole that’s seen noteworthy ice melt in recent years. All this despite the fact continental ice growth has increased overall. Nonetheless, “Lead author Andrew Fisher, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, emphasized that the geothermal heating reported in this study does not explain the alarming loss of ice from West Antarctica that has been documented by other researchers,” NSF reported, later adding, “The geothermal heat flux measured in the new study was about 285 milliwatts per square meter, which is like the heat from one small LED Christmas-tree light per square meter.” No development, natural or otherwise, will change the narrative as global delegates prepare to hash out a blockbuster climate deal later this year. That’s why the Leftmedia will turn a deaf ear, just as they did when Antarctic sea ice smashed record highs.

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