Forget coral reefs and polar bears – they are so yesterday’s climate scare stories. The real big one, the tipping point du jour, is the collapse of the West Antarctica ice shelf and the prospect of global flooding on a biblical scale last reported in the times of Noah. It’s in rapid retreat says every scaremonger from Sir David Attenborough to the BBC’s resident green activist Justin Rowlatt. It is in retreat – a natural process as the Earth slowly moves out of an ice age. But now, new scientific work has found the process at the huge Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica – nicknamed the ‘Doomsday Glacier‘ for the supposed approaching catastrophe of its swift demise – is much slower than in the recent past.
The Thwaites Glacier has long been of interest. It is the second largest ice stream in West Antarctica and occupies an area the size of Florida. A group of oceanographers, led by Dr. Alastair Graham of the University of South Florida, has mapped part of the floor once occupied by the glacier, and discovered it was retreating at twice the rate in the past than that now indicated by the satellite measurements made between 2011-2019. The earlier rate of retreat was said to be “exceptionally fast”. Work is in progress to establish when that fast retreat occurred, but it is almost certain it pre-dates the 1950s, could be about 180 years old, and possibly dates back several centuries. What is completely clear, however, given the timing, is that human-caused climate change was not a factor in the faster retreat.
The results were obtained by using autonomous submersibles to map an area of the sea floor where markings were discovered representing the retreating glacier. Mapping 13 square kilometres, the researchers found a series of ridges caused by the moving glacier hitting the sea floor as it rose and fell with the tides. It was found that during the daily tidal cycle, the glacier retreated around 6-7 metres a day, although sometimes reaching 10m. Over about five months of data, the glacier retreated 2.1 kms a year, twice the current rate measured by the satellites.
The ridges were discovered on a ‘bump’ in the sea floor that had helped pin the glacier. It was found that over a 5.5 month period, the average spacing of the ridges increased upstream from 5.8m to 6.3m. This 8% increase accelerated the annual retreat rate from 2.13km to 2.3km. The results are said to indicate that the movement across the area to the present day position was “probably rapid”. The scientists note: “Our results indicate that the rate of retreat from the bump was double the average estimated for the period 1996-2009, and about three times faster than a location immediately inland of the bump between 2011 and 2017.”
Two years ago, another group led by glaciologist Professor Julian Dowdeswell of Cambridge University measured similar tidal wedges under the Larsen continental shelf in the western Weddell Sea. Grounding line retreat rates of 40-50m a day were discovered, equivalent to 10kms a year. The scientists concluded that this retreat occurred 14,000 years ago and was 100 times faster than the rate over the past 10,000 years.
This is all fascinating scientific work that gives us more information about the natural processes that shape the Earth. But it will be largely ignored in the mainstream if such findings are seen to cast doubt on the ‘settled’ science of human-caused global warming. In March 2020, the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt took a camera crew to the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, an area he called the “front line of climate change”. The equilibrium that had held our world in balance for tens of thousands of years was beginning to slip and crash, he claimed. The “epic forces” at work were like a “scream of anguish”, he continued. “The glacier is being torn and shattered.” The acceleration in melting that affected the entire West Antarctica ice sheet was, “needless to say”, the result of the global warming gases our lifestyles produced. The emotional tosh continued: “A colleague interviews me for a programme we are making and I burst into tears. It takes me days to process my emotions.”
Humans may have a part to play in a climate that has always changed. Considering the massive forces at work in the natural world, many only partly understood, it is probably minor or even insignificant. But the move to declare the science around the subject ‘settled’ is harming our efforts to better understand the natural forces that shape the planet. It is certainly harming our ability to have a reasoned conversation about it. Vast sums of money are being diverted into a command-and-control Net Zero political agenda designed to radically alter the lifestyles and economic prospects of every single human on the planet. Only science that supports this political narrative gets a hearing in the mainstream media, and when politics is involved, emotion is never far from the controlling message.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.