According to World Science, in a publication released March 23, 2006, sea-level rise related to global warming is producing a newly-discovered phenomenon called "glacial earthquakes." Furthermore, as asserted in a study published in Science magazine, Earth may be warm enough by the year 2100 for the widespread melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and partial collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
According to Jonathan Overbeck at the University of Arizona in Tucson, based on reconstructions of past climate, sea level could rise by several yards by the end of this century. In the study, seismologists reported extensively on glacial earthquakes. These are huge glaciers that experience sudden, unexpected lurches in their forward movement. These lurches are so significant that they produce tremors on the "moment-magnitude scale" up to a magnitude of 5.1. (The moment-magnitude scale is similar to the Richter scale used in seismology to record earthquakes.) These lurches most frequently occur during July and August.
Goran Ekstrom, a researcher at Harvard University, says that some of these glaciers are "as large as Manhattan and as tall as the Empire State Building, and can move 33 feet (10 m) in less than a minute; which is a jolt sufficient to generate moderate seismic waves." He believes the mechanism causing this is global warming. As glaciers and the snow on them melts, water seeps downward and accumulates at the glacier's base, acting like a lubricant.
Global warming is one of the most pressing issues in the news today. Public awareness, involvement, and action are critical in order to begin the steps necessary to put an end to it. (Nature's Images)
Meredith Nettles, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, who is also part of the research team, says these glaciers can respond to changes in climate conditions much more rapidly than previously thought. The faster they move and melt into the ocean, the faster sea level rises, and the more likely they are to slow the ocean currents that distribute warmth around the world. Greenland, which is not an area prone to seismic activity, has experienced 182 of these glacial earthquakes since 1993, with magnitudes ranging from 4.6 to 5.1. They all originated at major valleys draining the Greenland Ice Sheet. According to researchers, this indicates an increase in glacial melting, ultimately leading to sea-level rise. Evidence of glacial earthquakes has also been reported in Alaska and at the edges of Antarctica.
According to Sydney Levitus, director of NOAA's World Data Center for Oceanography, sea-level observations during the past 100 years indicate that sea level has risen at an average rate of 0.07 inch (1.7 mm) per year, most of that due to thermal expansion. Levitus and other researchers have developed models based on gathered data from 15 to 20 years ago. In their models, they have been able to separate successfully and clearly the "human signal" from Earth's "natural variability." This is enabling scientists to shift from trying to "prove" global warming is a problem to figuring out ways to fix the now-accepted problem. Some consequences of global warming are already too late to fix, even if all use of fossil fuels were stopped today. With what has already been released into the atmosphere, there will still be future warming along with its related effects. This forces not only scientists but the general public to find ways to prepare for the unstoppable effects and adjust and adapt accordingly in the future.
According to Thomas Wigley, a climate researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, even if the world had stopped the use of fossil fuels five years ago, global average temperature would still rise 1°F (0.6°C) by the end of the 21st century and sea levels would rise by another 4 inches (10 cm). Rising sea levels would continue well beyond 2100, even without adding meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets (because the ocean warms so slowly, it will take longer for it to respond to all the heat already added to it).
When the research team at NCAR ran their models, sea level increases continued long after temperature increases leveled out. Dr. Gerald Meehl, also at NCAR, believes that "the relentless nature of sea level rise is daunting." Meehl also says that "many people do not realize we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise. The longer we wait, the more climate change we are committed to in the future."
According to Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, "Prevention of global warming and subsequent sea level rise is not on the table. Adaptation needs to be given a much higher priority than it has been given. We have the scientific technological knowledge we need to improve adaptation." He recommends that science and technology apply that knowledge globally right now.
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