We were recently bombarded with hysterical news about how man-made global warming has caused the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet to reach an “irreversible“, “unstoppable“, “point of no return“, which will result in a disastrous rise in sea levels — a “Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming“.
The Obama administration rode the wave of this hysteria to push through regulation restricting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which the US Chamber of Commerce estimated would cost the economy $50 billion and thousands of jobs annually, with a cumulative impact of $859 billion by 2030. (As I’ve previously commented, “Whatever the truth about global warming and mankind’s role in climate change, we should never allow anyone to deceive us into believing that catastrophe will befall us all if we do not allow our governments to assume ever greater authorities over our lives to dictate to us how to behave.)
This claim was made despite it being well understood that there was geothermal activity beneath the ice sheet. The contribution of volcanoes to the melting was simply dismissed in favor of pushing the idea that human activity was causing this melt.
Rethinking the Cause of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Melt
But according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, the geothermal heat is indeed a major cause of the melting. They discuss how the dismissals of this factor were based on inadequate models. A press release about the study states:
Using radar techniques to map how water flows under ice sheets, UTIG researchers were able to estimate ice melting rates and thus identify significant sources of geothermal heat under Thwaites Glacier. They found these sources are distributed over a wider area and are much hotter than previously assumed.
The geothermal heat contributed significantly to melting of the underside of the glacier, and it might be a key factor in allowing the ice sheet to slide, affecting the ice sheet’s stability and its contribution to future sea level rise.
The cause of the variable distribution of heat beneath the glacier is thought to be the movement of magma and associated volcanic activity arising from the rifting of the Earth’s crust beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Explaining the significance, the paper states:
Thwaites Glacier is one of the West Antarctica’s most prominent, rapidly evolving, and potentially unstable contributors to global sea level rise. Uncertainty in the amount and spatial pattern of geothermal flux and melting beneath this glacier is a major limitation in predicting its future behavior and sea level contribution. In this paper, a combination of radar sounding and subglacial water routing is used to show that large areas at the base of Thwaites Glacier are actively melting in response to geothermal flux consistent with rift-associated magma migration and volcanism. This supports the hypothesis that heterogeneous geothermal flux and local magmatic processes could be critical factors in determining the future behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
If the geothermal activity subsides, for example, it might turn out that the melting is not quite so “unstoppable” after all. We simply do not yet know — all doomsday declarations to the contrary notwithstanding.