The more we learn about Antarctica, the greater the urgency to act on climate change

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: John Letzing, Digital Editor, Strategic Intelligence, World Economic Forum


  • A number of troubling discoveries have been made related to Antarctica.
  • Reports point to record ice shelf melt contributing to sea level rise.
  • Curbing emissions could limit the impact of warming on the continent.

In the pitch-black depths beneath 900 metres of Antarctic ice shelf, scientists recently made a curious discovery: something’s living down there.

The detection of sponges and other “unidentifiable” animals that defy established science is just one in a steady stream of revelations about a forbidding region. Frequently, these insights help build a stronger case for doing more to combat climate change.

Antarctica may be remote and desolate, but it could affect us all relatively soon. Sea levels are now expected to rise more quickly than had been anticipated as recently as 2019, and melting Antarctic glaciers and ice sheets are a contributing factor. The continent has been losing an estimated 150 billion metric tons of ice every year since 2002.

According to results published last week of a study that strapped sensors to seals, rapidly melting Antarctic glaciers are changing nearby ocean water more than realized – with implications for the climate and future sea level rise. A study published not long before that suggested the second-biggest ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula experienced record melting during the 2019-2020 summer season.

Last year, it was discovered that the ice shelves making up about three-quarters of Antarctica’s coastline, and helping to hold glaciers in place, are melting faster than they’re being replenished. Ultimately, the continent holds enough ice to raise sea levels by 60 metres. Since 1880, global mean sea level has risen by only about 24 centimetres.

As ice departs from Antarctica it can be lethal; a massive iceberg that broke off an ice shelf more than three years ago was bearing down on South Georgia Island and its population of penguins before recently breaking up. Experts say a changing climate is pushing more ice to Antarctica’s edges, where it can encounter warming water and snap off.

Image: World Economic Forum

Earlier this month, an iceberg bigger than New York City broke off the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Scientists say this was part of a natural process and didn’t have direct ties to climate change – though such “calving” events have become increasingly frequent.

Antarctica recorded its hottest days on record slightly more than a year ago, but conditions remain far from ideal for human activity (they are, however, great for preserving a lost wallet for a half-century). Still, changes in the region can impact more populated parts of the world in ways that go beyond rising sea levels.

For example, the polar vortex over Antarctica, a wind pattern driven by the contrast between the frigid pole and the warmth at lower latitudes, can impact temperatures and rainfall patterns in Australia; a weakened polar vortex can induce hot and dry extremes there.

There are a number of things just about anyone can do to help blunt the effects of climate change on Antarctica and the rest of the world, ranging from flying less to eating less meat. If we manage to cut emissions and hold warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, sea level rise by the end of this century could be just half of what it would be otherwise.

Image: World Economic Forum

The notion of ice melt in Antarctica contributing to sea level rise isn’t merely theoretical. A study published in 2019 estimated that a six-fold increase in yearly ice mass loss in Antarctica caused global sea levels to rise by more than half an inch between roughly the time Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in the UK, and Emmanuel Macron became the president of France.

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • Scientists turned to seals for that Antarctic glacial meltwater study because harsh winter conditions limit the use of ships or planes to make observations, according to this report. Seven southern elephant seals and seven Weddell seals were deployed. (Science Daily)
  • The discovery of life 900 metres beneath Antarctic ice was an accident, according to this report – researchers had drilled a borehole in search of sediment samples, and instead found 13 sponges and 22 unidentifiable “stalked organisms.” (Big Think)
  • Australia’s plans to build an airport with a 2.7-kilometre paved runway in eastern Antarctica is deemed controversial, according to this report – due to its potential environmental impact, and “major” geopolitical concerns. (The Diplomat)
  • A recent study found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has declined steadily, as expected, but the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is far more sensitive to spikes in the weather than thought – which could make modelling of sea level rise more accurate, according to this report. (Eos)
  • This piece argues that preventive measures have to be taken to limit the impacts of climate change, tourism, fishing, and research infrastructure on the western Antarctic Peninsula – before it’s too late. (Nature)
  • According to this report, the ability of waves to transport large microplastics faster than previously thought helps us understand why they’re now found throughout the ocean – including around Antarctica. (The Conversation)
  • Turns out we may have had it all wrong when it comes to melting icebergs. This study found that while current models assume they melt uniformly, they actually do so at different speeds based on shape – a discovery that could help better assess climate change. (Science Daily)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to Antarctica, Climate Change and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Climate action ‘both a priority and a driver of the decade’: Guterres

Finland is a world leader in clean energy. Here’s what’s driving its success

Trump’s Russophiles under investigation, Europe remains ‘en garde’

Syria war: executions condemned as violence continues ‘on both sides’ of border with Turkey

Now is the time to seize ‘unprecedented opportunity’ of the Sustainable Development Forum, says ECOSOC President

Afghanistan extends ceasefire with Taliban; UN urges both sides to work towards lasting peace

EU and China in search of a win-win agreement through strategic cooperation ahead of the EU-China summit

‘Wind blowing in the direction of peace’ in Africa: UN Secretary-General

Harnessing the power of nature in the fight against climate change

Rule of law in Hungary: Parliament should ask Council to act, say committee MEPs

COP25: ‘Signals of hope’ multiplying in face of global climate crisis, insists UN chief Guterres

Council Presidency: Floundering with the EU 2014 budget

EU Banks still get subsidies from impoverished citizens

Century challenge: inclusion of immigrants in the health system

State aid: Commission approves €53 million public support scheme for charging stations for low emission vehicles in Romania

Is China about to launch its own cryptocurrency?

European Health Union: Commission publishes open public consultation on the European Health Data Space

Trade preferences boost developing countries’ exports to the European Union

These are New York Public Library’s 10 most borrowed books

Bank resolutions to remain a politically influenced affair

China in my eyes

5 charts that show renewable energy’s latest milestone

Making the move to more sustainable mobility – three steps for companies

This young activist explains how to change the world in 3 steps

Hungary’s emergency measures: MEPs ask EU to impose sanctions and stop payments

Telemedicine: union when the rule is isolation

International partners pledge $1.2 billion to help cyclone-hit Mozambique recover, ‘build back better’

Vulnerable young people must not be blamed & stigmatised for violent radicalisation

Scotland wants to create an ethical stock exchange (Post Brexit)

Addressing the Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccination

The future of the plastics industry is green

A clean energy future with hydrogen could be closer than we think

Human rights breaches in Guinea Conakry and Madagascar

Art, mental health and suicide: different strategies for increasing access to health services

As human genome editing moves from the lab to the clinic, the ethical debate is no longer hypothetical

How debt for climate swaps could spur a green recovery

The UN’s unyielding effort to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation: our quarterly update

Security Union: Significant progress and tangible results over past years but efforts must continue

Impact investing in Latin America and addressing the ‘missing middle’

Governments must take further action to boost job opportunities at an older age

EUREKA @ European Business Summit 2014: Innovation across borders – mobilising national R&D funds for transnational innovation in Europe

The world’s impact in a small Brazilian town and the increased demand for mental health

Long-term EU budget: The Union’s ambitions must be matched with sufficient reliable funding

Time to pay up: UN summit to push for development finance breakthrough

‘Great cause of concern’ UN chief tells Security Council, surveying ‘bleak’ state of civilian protection

How Islamic finance can build resilience to climate change

Further reforms in France can drive growth, improve public finances and boost social cohesion

The best companies to work for in 2020, according to Glassdoor

Countries must up their game to reduce low birth weights, warns UN-backed report

Libya: EU efforts should focus on protecting migrants, MEPs say

MWC2021 Launches New Initiative to Widen Access for Spanish Industry Professionals

One in three children do not get the nutrition they need

Largest joint UN humanitarian convoy of the war, reaches remote Syrian settlement

Is the EU denying its social character favouring a banking conglomerate?

Why the UN is investigating poverty in the United Kingdom

Sustainable fishing staying afloat in developed world, sinking in poorer regions

A comprehensive strategy for Eurozone’s long term growth gains momentum

Silk Road Unlimited

This is how Europe is helping companies and workers as the coronavirus crisis deepens

UN chief announces progress on committee to shape Syria’s political future

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s