by Vijay Jayaraj
In an era of climate fearmongering, the curious case of Antarctica has more to offer than mere fairytales and could play an important role in understanding our planet’s future.
Sprawling over an area of 5.5 million square miles (and nearly 11 million square miles in winter), Antarctica is a virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass holding 90 percent of the ice on the planet. The continent has been of interest to explorers, scientists, and occasional tourists.
The absence of human inhabitation has resulted in the continent being a breeding ground for rumors and controversies. Of the many controversies (including bizarre claims of alien life), the most fascinating are the post-World War II claims about a secret German colony in Antarctica.
Many believed that the Nazi empire in Germany, sensing its imminent defeat, built military bases in Antarctica. Some say the heightened post-war activity of the American navy in the region was to seek and destroy these secret hideouts of the Third Reich.
As the dramatic rumors died away, and with the advent of the 21st century, Antarctica became home for a new set of controversies: climate change.
Al Gore, in his 2006 climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, suggested that both the Arctic and Antarctic would face a huge loss of ice because of global warming.
Many likeminded politicians and bureaucrats joined his chorus, eventually turning the tide of academic funding in favor of their doomsday prophecies. This week, CNN claimed that Antarctic ice loss has accelerated 280 percent in the last four decades.
Antarctica’s ice sheet extent is highly volatile, and all models have had difficulty predicting the future. In order to understand ice mass gains and losses, we need to understand the historical changes in ice mass and extent.
Empirical data indicates that the continent’s ice sheet increased in mass from 1992 to 2008—gaining an average of 112 billion tons of ice per year from 1992 to 2001, and 82 billion tons per year from 2003 and 2008.
The gains didn’t stop then. In fact, 2014’s ice sheet area of 7.76 million square miles was the highest in recorded history. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Glaciology showed that the mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet exceeded its losses.
In 2016, a scientific publication in Nature Climate Change revealed that sea surface temperatures around Antarctica have been cooling since 1979. Ascientific publication by the American Meteorological Society in 2018 concluded that there has been a cooling of surface in the Southern Oceans and a significant circumpolar increase in Antarctic sea ice. In fact, Western Antarctic Peninsula’s sea ice is at its highest in 10,000 years.
The same is true with the Arctic region. Holocene (the present climate period that began 10,000 years ago) sea ice trends for the Arctic indicate that the sea ice at its highest levels, except for the extraordinarily high levels of the Little Ice Age in the 17th century.
A new scientific report published in 2018 clarified that half of the Arctic sea ice loss in recent decades is due to the natural climate cycle, and that nothing unprecedented is happening there.
It requires blind faith to conclude that the Arctic and Antarctic are in grave danger.
Maybe it’s time we set aside the popular media narrative and political rumors, and rely on empirical scientific data before we reach conclusions aboutmelting ice and climate doomsday.
The deliberate attempts to mislead the public’s perception on this issue have to be exposed, just as were the other fairytales about a German colony and alien contact.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.