Pine Island Glacier: the latest example of rapidly melting polar ice that will eventually flood major airports

Ecowatch published an informative article about a huge iceberg, roughly 115 square miles, that has calved off of the Pine Island Glacier. The article cites an interesting series of posts by Stef Lhermitte discussing a large new iceberg, designated B-46, which is rapidly disintegrating as it drifts toward the Pacific Ocean.

The series of posts includes a GIF slideshow showing annual sea-ice extent at the Pine Island Glacier. Here is a scrollable PDF showing a series of screencaps taken from the GIF slideshow, with images at roughly a 5-year interval from 1975 to 2018 (depending on what years had available images). The sea ice extent for each year is indicated by a color-coded thick line; over time, this line progresses upward, exposing more of the seawater below. In the background of all images, the satellite image appears to be current, as taken on 10/30/2018.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Overall, this series of images shows a pronounced decline in sea-ice coverage. Within the images, you will also notice that there were a few years, ending in 2013, where sea-ice cover was expanding. Since 2013, the melting/calving has been precipitous. Bear in mind, the polar regions are in total darkness for months each year, and it may take years for new meltwater to mix with the seawater below. Thus, massive ice melting may cause an easily frozen freshwater lens to sit atop the seawater. This will create an illusion of expanding sea-ice extent for a few winters. But, eventually, once the excessive freshwater becomes mixed, or as ambient air temperatures continue to increase, the expanded ice that peaked in 2013 will become just a distant memory.

Putting this in a Geographic Context

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, describing this specific glacier:

Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is a large ice stream, and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, responsible for about 25% of Antarctica’s ice loss.[3] The glacier ice streams flow west-northwest along the south side of the Hudson Mountains into Pine Island Bay, Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. It was mapped by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from surveys and United States Navy (USN) air photos, 1960–66, and named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) in association with Pine Island Bay.[1][4]

The area drained by Pine Island Glacier comprises about 10% of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.[5] Satellite measurements have shown that the Pine Island Glacier Basin has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea than any other ice drainage basin in the world and this has increased due to recent acceleration of the ice stream.

Here are a pair of images, showing Pine Island Glacier’s location on Antarctica, and showing the seas that surround Antarctica, connecting it to the extreme southern oceans.

What Does this Suggest for Our Global Future, and for Aviation?

The rate of calving in recent years is disturbing, and reflects a harsh reality: if our ever-expanding over-consumption of fossil fuels is not reined in, and we continue to see 2- or 3- ppm annual increases in average atmospheric CO2 concentrations (see Keeling Curve), we can expect collapse of these polar glaciers and large-scale sea-rise. Hundreds of the busiest airports across the globe will become underwater. Homes for more than a billion people will also become uninhabitable, under sea-rise. Displaced people will need to find new homes, and that situation will result in global conflict and likely massive human depopulation.

Would it not be a good idea to immediately impose policies that strongly disincentivize excessive and arbitrary use of aviation?

A Closing Image: Accelerated Melting is Likely

Below is a different perspective, rotated, but showing the recession of the glacier (roughly from left to right) and how it compares to actual shorelines beneath. The areas of ice over water are designated as the ‘northern ice shelf’ and ‘southern ice shelf’. Over land, colors appear to show ice flow rates using a spectrum, with red being fast, yellow being moderate, and blue being slow. A major concern among scientists who study polar ice loss and related sea-level rise is that loss of sea-ice eventually removes an important ‘plug’ that holds back glacial ice over land; kind of like eroding the footing out from under a bridge pier. In other words, in this example, the fear is that once the Pine Island Glacier recedes beyond the base of the SW tributary and the southern ice shelf is nearly gone, ice flow from the SW tributary will rapidly accelerate, which in turn will rapidly accelerate global sea-level rise.

It would seem to be very foolish, to continue to ignore this evidence.

You can Choose: Fly Less, or Even NOT AT ALL!

One of the best decisions each of us can make, for the environment and the future lives of our children, is to become truly mindful about fossil fuel consumption. Air travel is an incredibly intensive consumption method, and the fastest way each of us can pump fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere. So, here’s a prominent scientist discussing his decision, more than a decade ago, to stop flying. This could be you, too; and, if you choose this method of showing our concern, you’ll also help reduce other impacts such as the NextGen non-stop streams destroying a few communities across our nation).

So, think about it. Please fly less, or even not at all.

Elected Leaders Need to Work Together

Most of us are smart and rational people, who understand our growing problem with Climate Change and its connection to fossil fuel consumption. Those of us who apply critical thinking, to reason past the propaganda lines spun by the aviation industry cabal (aviation lobbyists, industry players, faux-regulators, etc.), understand this stark fact:

Aviation relies heavily on fossil fuel consumption, and is the fastest way for each of us to further burden our stressed atmosphere with more carbon emissions.

So, what to do about it? It seems to be a no-brainer. The growing number of responsible elected officials who are speaking up to address climate change … they need to join up with elected officials who are fighting to clean up the health and community impacts by excessive scheduling at the most problematic airports. On both counts, this is a fight for a healthy future, and to minimize the life-shortening consequences of too much fossil fuel consumption. Aviation is the perfect place to start.

One Congressional advocate for action on Climate Change is Sheldon Whitehouse, from Rhode Island. Click here to read a copy of a recent email, part of his ongoing campaign. Click here to see his 3/13/2018 news release for a recent speech.

New Brochure Debunks Greenwashing

A new brochure has been published by Finance & Trade Watch, an NGO based in Vienna, Austria. Authored by Magdalena Heuwieser, the 24-pages debunk many of the most common forms of aviation greenwashing. The brochure includes lots of interesting insight that will further inform about the state of regulatory capture that applies not just to FAA but also to the international body, ICAO.

Here is a short index:

  • Pg.4: Headlong growth in a green guise
  • Pg.7: Fantasy technologies and green kerosene
  • Pg.9: Offsetting emissions: a licence to pollute
  • Pg.11: International aviation’s climate plan: CORSIA
  • Pg.14: Green airports? Offsetting emissions and biodiversity
  • Pg.17: Flying with a clear conscience? Individual offsetting of air travel
  • Pg.19: What now? Summing up and looking ahead
  • Pg.21: On the move: resistance highlights

Click here to view an archived copy of the 2-page Executive Summary; click on the image below to view/download the full brochure.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


UPDATE, 11/30/2017: — Excellent overview posted at GAAM (the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement); more great work by Rose Bridger.

WaPost OpEd: “For the Love of Earth, Stop Traveling”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post lays out the simple answers: air travel consumes far too much energy, creates far too much environmental damage, per person. Good points.

The simple solution is for more of us to voluntarily travel, a lot less. The government would help, a lot, if they would impose a very steep aviation carbon tax, with all revenues going to reducing other personal taxes and/or funding far more energy-efficient transportation modes, to replace the energy-efficiency of aviation.

Check out this archived opinion piece, as well as the telling reader comments.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

The UN aviation deal (by ICAO) is cheating the climate

No accountability.

When we have so many layers, so many players, we end up with a process that creates an illusion of a just and thoughtful outcome, when in fact all we have are ‘players’ who cover for further industry expansion.

Here’s a video from a year ago, by FERN.org, pointing out the injustices inside ICAO’s latest schemes:

A Steep Aviation Carbon Tax Would Solve Many Aviation Impacts

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(click on image to view source tweet)

Aviation is heavily subsidized when Congress approves taxes on passenger tickets and air cargo, then uses those taxes to expand airports beyond what serves the local community. Congress can do better. They need to implement fees and taxes that disincentivize the excessive carbon consumption by commercial operators. Here are some of the many benefits:

  • fewer hub flights (and thus more direct flights)
  • reduced noise and air pollutant impacts, along with more sleep and preserved quality of life, in communities currently being destroyed by NextGen
  • less aviation CO2 pollution per passenger (due to shorter/direct trips replacing indirect flights via hubs)
  • reduced delays (especially at hub airports)

Hubristic and Hypocritical?

The Av-Gov Spin Machine is hard at it again, this time led by Reuters:

Just days after Trump dumped the climate agreement, U.S. airlines and their lobby, Airlines for America (A4A), are telling us that they really care about CO2, climate change, and the impacts of their industry. We are to believe that a business model that sells time-savings by massively consuming fossil fuels can be environmentally responsible. The centerpiece of their ICAO-sourced plan is not to reduce consumption but to have passengers and shippers pay a fee that offsets aviation impacts with small environmental investments. Kinda like this: imagine that you and I have a company and we’ll be allowed to infinitely pollute the ocean, so long as we build a nice filtration system to clean a pond in West Podunk. If eyes were pointed at that pond, we’d look like heroes; but, when people see the full picture, we look like worthless scoundrels.

Oh, and this is an industry (and lobbyist) that crows everyday about one statistic or another showing continued market growth. So, really, how are they going to see any meaningful reduction in fossil fuel consumption, going forward? Also, this ‘we care about the environment’ spin was announced from Cancun, where industry officials had gathered from around the world. Let that sink in.


UPDATE, 6/8/2017: — To discourage excessive fossil fuel consumption for air cargo, business travel, and aviation tourism, the logical next step is to simply impose a steep carbon tax on all aviation fuels (and arguably, on the marine sector, too, thus covering ship tourism and marine cargo). Here’s a good analysis about the value of an aviation carbon tax, by two law professors in Western Australia: Airline emissions and the case for a carbon tax on flight tickets. Read the interesting reader comments, too.

A Classic Image in the War Against Carbon

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(click on image to view lots more, tweeted by 'ITryNotToFly')

(click on image to view lots more, tweeted by ‘ITryNotToFly’)

We Should All Be So Brave.

Let’s hope, in this New Year, we continue to see great creative effort and expression by some of the wonderful bloggers fighting for our planet and our future!

Have We Just Seen a Drastic Change in Polar Ice?

Here’s a possibly weak analogy, but I think it makes the point well. Suppose you drive a car everyday and for a few months now you have listened to a squeak that you are pretty sure indicates you need to get maintenance on your brakes. Months have passed since you first realized this, because you have been busy and distracted. Minutes ago, while you were doing your normal drive, a failure happened, and that annoying squeak suddenly became something much bigger. Your instincts kicked in and you wrestled for control while veering off the road, struggling to avoid damaging your vehicle, yourself, and others.

That car might in fact be our planet, our climate system, our future. Do you see the problem? The analogy applies to the polar ice data, discussed below.

What Happened in October This Year?

Has our climate change situation ‘veered off course’ in the middle of 2016? Charts showing daily sea ice extent in both the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions suggest this is distinctly possible. See the screencaps below, showing two charts, both copied from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) website, out of Boulder, CO. For both images, aiREFORM has selected sea ice extent for all years, 2005 through 2016, and only for the last four months of each calendar year. Note that the heavy black line represents the average from 1981 through 2000; the light gray band represents a two standard deviation statistical range either side of the average. Lastly, and most importantly, note the extraordinary departure of the dark red line at the bottom: this is 2016, and for both polar regions, the drop away from normality is as if a wheel fell off our loaded Christmas shopping cart.

20161210scp-nsidc-arctic-2005-2016-plots-for-final-5-months-of-calendar-year

NSIDC chart showing Arctic Sea Ice Extent, all years 2005-2016, for the last four months of the calendar year

20161210scp-nsidc-antarctic-2005-2016-plots-for-final-5-months-of-calendar-year

NSIDC chart showing Antarctic Sea Ice Extent, all years 2005-2016, for the last four months of the calendar year

And here’s another analogy. If an egg falls off a wall, is it possible, the consequences are irrecoverable? And, just how fragile is our climate? Would we be helping future generations if we were mindful to consume energy in moderation?

How This Connects to Air Travel

I was recently sent a link to a blog by a former air traffic controller spending a few years as a travelling ex-pat, living and travelling all over the globe. He essentially lays out why he now owns two valid U.S. passports, with this paragraph:

To me, it is perfectly reasonable to want to rush to a place because you can’t get a song out of your head: “London Calling,” “Kathmandu,” “Kashmir,” “New York, New York,” “Marrakesh Express?” I see nothing wrong with making a last-minute trip to Turkey just because there is a fantastic new seafood place on the Aegean Sea in Alacati. If the wildebeest migration is supposed to be especially photogenic in Tanzania next week, I want to be there. If you too think these things are reasonable, maybe you too should look into getting a second passport.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is wonderful that people can travel and feel a richer life experience, day-to-day. But this activity, this level of consumption, has negative impacts. Others pay costs – some immediately, some in due time.

The immediate impacts are that the higher consumption of air miles translates to more flights, more planes per hour at locations already burdened with repetitive noise and air pollutant impacts; e.g., we see FAA working to add runway throughput at the hub airports, which causes perpetual sleep loss under the new NextGen routes.

The not-so-immediate impacts are, quite potentially, the destruction of the capacity of our planet to grow enough food and sustain many species. And, holy crap, looking at these two charts and applying decades’ worth of trained and experienced analytical skills, I can say: objectively, probabilities are much higher that these charts portend a serious and rapidly intensifying problem, versus the opposite.

Look, I’m not trying to be alarmist here, I’m just saying: let’s be fully eyes-open and awake with the decisions we make about how we each live, especially about our energy consumption, our own personal carbon footprint. To my friend, who is also a retired FAA air traffic controller, I’ll briefly rebut: “No, it is NOT perfectly reasonable to want to rush to a place because you can’t get a song out of your head. Just look at the charts above.”

Indeed, moderation is a beautiful thing.