Threat of Sea Level Rise Intensifies as Antarctica's Melting Ice Sheet at 'Point of No Return'
British researchers have reinforced recent evidence that melting in the Antarctic caused by the warming of the Southern Ocean could ultimately lead to global sea levels rising by around 3 meters or nearly 10 feet.
Their findings are in line with the results of a study that said six more decades of ocean warming could destabilize the ice beside the Amundsen Sea, starting a cascade of ice loss that would continue for centuries.
That 2015 study, which used computer simulations, was the work of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
But the UK scientists used a much more direct method of assessing the landscape to establish how the West Antarctic ice sheet might respond to increasing global temperatures. They just examined the mountain tops that stick up above the ice.
Levels of Ice
In what they say is the first study of its kind, the researchers were able to work out how the levels of ice covering the land have changed over hundreds of thousands of years by examining the peaks protruding through the ice in the Ellsworth Mountains, on Antarctica’s Atlantic flank.
The team from the University of Edinburgh, Northumbria University and Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre assessed the changes on slopes at various heights on the mountainside, which showed the levels previously reached by the ice sheet.
They also plotted the distribution of boulders on the mountains deposited by melting glaciers and used chemical technology—also known as exposure dating—to show how long rocks had been exposed to the atmosphere and how old they were.
The scientists report in Nature Communications that their results show how, during previous warm periods, a substantial amount of ice would have been lost from the West Antarctic ice sheet by ocean melting.
But it would not have melted entirely, which they say suggests that ice would have been lost from areas below sea level, but not on upland areas. The study shows that parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet have existed continuously for at least 1.4 million years.
John Woodward, professor of physical geography at Northumbria University, is one of the leaders of the study, which was supported by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the British Antarctic Survey.
He said: “It is possible that the ice sheet has passed the point of no return. If so, the big question is how much will go and how much will sea levels rise.”
His fellow leader, Dr. Andrew Hein, research fellow and manager of the University of Edinburgh’s Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory, said: “Our findings narrow the margin of uncertainty around the likely impact of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on sea level rise. This remains a troubling forecast since all signs suggest the ice from West Antarctica could disappear relatively quickly.”
If the West Antarctic ice sheet were to melt altogether—something that is not likely to happen this century—the world’s sea levels would rise by 4.8 meters. That would have massive consequences for coastal communities worldwide. The melting of the West Antarctic glaciers accelerated threefold over the 21 years to 2014.
What happens to the ice sheets of the Antarctic continent could cause even more profound changes to the Earth. The East Antarctic sheet had for decades been thought to be more stable than its western neighbor, but that is now less certain.
Two scientists from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reported in 2014 that they had identified how a relatively small loss of ice there could ultimately trigger a discharge of ice into the ocean that would result in unstoppable sea-level rise for thousands of years ahead.
Another study, published in 2015, predicted a doubling of the rate at which the ice shelves across Antarctica will melt by 2050.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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