I visit the Australian Antarctic Division, a sprawling space station-like complex on Hobart’s southern fringe, for a briefing from its director, Kim Ellis
Most of the article excerpt reproduced below is devoted to prophecy of disaster from Antarctic melting. The melting is seen as an ongoing process that will eventually "tip" into disaster
When we get to the actual facts however, it is a different story. Note in the last two paragraphs reproduced below that the senior antarctic scientist stresses how random are the actual changes in the Antarctic. They are so far from a steady progression towards disaster that he prefers "term “climate strange” to “climate change”.
Clearly, what is actually going on is nothing more than the random walk that we would expect from natural changes in the weather. Global warming is not only completely superfluous as an explanation, it does not fit the facts at all.
Though the effects of climate change are less visible across the Australian Antarctic Territory on the east of the continent, which Ellis administers, than on the western Antarctic Peninsula, where I’m headed, he has no doubt that warming on the continent is a concrete and not a spectral thing. The Antarctic is estimated to have lost three trillion tonnes of ice over the past 25 years and Ellis holds grave fears of an approaching tipping point.
“As ocean salinity changes due to the melting ice sheet and freshwater run-off, so do ocean currents,” says the 64-year-old former army officer in a bright bureaucratic tone that conceals the gravity of this grim scenario.
“The currents around the Antarctic are a major cooling factor. The Antarctic is the Earth’s airconditioner.”
If and when it tips – a moment unlikely to be discernible until it’s already past – Antarctica will become an aggressive driver of climate change. A warming, melting Antarctic would likely propel global sea levels one to two metres higher by 2100, washing an erstwhile frozen continent to the doorstep of many coastal communities.
Experts believe it would also stimulate a change in the direction and strength of the world’s big currents, and deplete oceanic oxygen levels and nutrition to the point where the Earth’s surface water would resemble a “marine desert”.
In the same facility I meet the Australian Antarctic Division’s acting chief scientist, Dirk Welsford, who is dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt bearing a cartoon of a rather wan-looking penguin. He’s a marine ecologist and like his boss, bearded.
Ellis sports a trimmed, almost Elizabethan beard; Welsford’s whiskers are more bearish. He stresses the dramatic temperature fluctuations on the continent between years, seasons and regions, preferring the term “climate strange” to “climate change”.
“The key thing we’re seeing is that everything is less predictable than it used to be,” he explains. “The ice might break out earlier than normal, or later than normal. That’s the big message for us from climate change – it’s not a steady upward swing. It’s pulsing in unpredictable ways.” The new normal, for Welsford, is the abnormal.