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Antarctica loss of sea ice kills penguins
The absence of sea ice has led to the deaths of thousands of penguins in Antarctica | This image, acquired on 10 December 2022, by Copernicus Sentinel-2A

“Climate breakdown has begun. Our climate is imploding faster than we can cope,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. (Source: “2024 Likely to be Hottest Year on Record,” Phys.org, September 6, 2023)

A report from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) released by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Berlin in the spring of 2023 reveals how surprisingly fast the icy continent is changing and its impact on the world.

At current levels of global warming, the planet is already committed to approximately 16 inches of global sea level rise, “which turns what was once considered a one in 100-year coastal flood event into an annual one.” (Source: “Report: Antarctic is Changing Dramatically with Global Consequences,” Phys.org, June 13, 2023)

Annual 100-year coastal flooding events puts one billion people at annual risks of losing homes, coastlines, and port facilities… every year! Maybe build sea walls… everywhere, worldwide? After all, sea level rise is not going to stop on its own. In fact, already, according to the Miami Herald: “Many of the main roads in the Florida Keys could be under water as soon as 2025.” (Source: “Some Keys Roads Will Flood by 2025 Due to Sea Rise, Fixing Them Could Cost $750 Million,” Miami Herald, Oct. 21, 2021)

Moreover, the 33rd annual State of the Climate Report published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society/Boulder discusses the vast extremes in Antarctica, which interestingly mirror similar climate extremes throughout the planet. It seems that climate change/global heating is synchronized throughout the world, which is likely a first of wide-spread implications, none positive.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet has experienced “enhanced warming” and is starting to lose ice much more rapidly than scientists ever expected at this early juncture. Meanwhile, in the heart of the continent, temperatures blew past all records, 79°F (44°C) higher than average March temperatures; a weather station recorded a balmy 14.7°F in the interior where temperatures on average run -71°F.

Of even more concern, an Antarctic heat wave occurred during the transition period from summer to winter when the temperature always drops rapidly, but that normalized behavior looks to be gone for now.

Like the rest of the planet, Antarctica experiences heat waves as well as intense unprecedented precipitation via atmospheric rivers, which in the north regions of the planet turn into massive, destructive flooding. Antarctica had a tripling of normalized snowfall. Thus, a new concern is future atmospheric rivers bringing enhanced heat causing more rapid melt and/or rain that gooses sea levels well beyond current expectations. Atmospheric rivers in Antarctica bring a new threat of indeterminate dimensions to sea level rise. Importantly, “Antarctica is the driest continent on Earth. The rare snowfall events on the cold Antarctic continent usually come from so-called atmospheric rivers (ARs)… they only occur a few days per year.” (Source: “Contribution of Atmospheric Rivers to Antarctic Precipitation,” Geophysical Research Letters, September 7, 2022) Antarctica just had a tripling of normal snowfall as climate change extends abnormalities to the southern-most regions of the planet.

The Antarctica issue will likely get worse as highlighted by a new report claiming that the pace of CO2 concentration has increased three-fold, due mostly to burning fossil fuels, the primary force behind global warming. (Source: “State of the Climate Report,” US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) The NOAA report noted that CO2 levels are: (1) 50% higher than pre-industrial (2) the highest in the modern atmospheric record (3) the highest in the paleoclimate records over the past 800,000 years. And annual growth in global mean carbon dioxide, when averaged across the last decade, “has tripled since the 1960s.” Averaged annual growth over a decade that triples is flat-out fast.

The NOAA report emphasizes the fact that the world is running too warm aka: hot. China, for example, endured “the worst heat wave ever recorded anywhere in the world in 2022,” disrupting major sectors of the country. The massive heatwave caused widespread power shortages and disrupted key food and industrial supply chains. Coincidentally, China’s economy is on the ropes in a big way, hmm.

As for 2023, “Pigs, Rabbits and Fish Are Dying from Searing Temperatures in China,” CNN Business News, June 2, 2023, as wheat fields flood with the heaviest rainfall in a decade. Radical climate change officially erupted in China with many large cities hitting 40°C (104°F) and staying there for some time.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is focusing on food security, as quoted in Qiushi, the Communist Party’s main theoretical journal: “Once something’s wrong with agriculture, our bowls will be held in someone else’s hands, and we’ll have to depend on others for food. How can we achieve modernization in that case?” (Ibid.)

According to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the past eight years are the hottest on record with 2023 set to be hotter than any of them, the hottest year in human history, whilst 20% of global land gets hit hard by drought. Excessive heat is hitting everywhere, e.g., the Swiss Alps lost a record 6% of volume in one year. Consider that rate over another decade, or two, and what remains?

Copernicus’ Update, September 2023: Antarctic sea ice remained at a record low for the time of year with a monthly value 12% below average, which is “by far the largest anomaly for August since satellite observations began in the 1970s.” How many more 12% below averages does it take to throw a wrench into predictions of 16 inches of sea level rise already baked into the cake? And that’s just for starters based upon what’s been happening so far.

The El Niño Threat – it’s going to get worse.

The El Niño weather phenomenon, which increases heat in the southern Pacific and spreads across the world has only just begun. Scientists say its worst effects will be felt at the end of 2023, into 2024 and possibly beyond. Unfortunately, with the world climate system now synchronized and determined by global warming’s impact, it’s highly probable that Antarctica will get hit even harder, especially West Antarctica, which has been notoriously labeled “fragile.”heatAccording to Mark Maslin, a professor of climatology at University College London: “2023 is the year that climate records were not just broken but smashed… extreme weather events are now common and getting worse every year—this is a wakeup call to international leaders.” (Source: “2023 Likely to be Hottest Year on Record,” Phys.org, September 6, 2023).

“Global warming continues because we have not stopped burning fossil fuels—it is that simple,” Friederike Otto, climate scientist, Imperial College London, (Ibid.)

Meanwhile, with great anticipation, COP28 is in bright flashing lights: The largest, the most extravagant, the most anticipated, the most attended, the most world leader photo-ops (100+). the most private jets, the most golden embroidered structures, the favorite playground of petrostates, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP28, will be the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, held from November 30 until December 12, 2023, at the Expo City, Dubai.

It’s fair to say that COP28 will be confronted with the most challenging, the most tumultuous climate system in human history.

What will 80,000 attendees at a fossil fuel-hosted climate conference come up with?

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Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.
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