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With the confirmation that pristine blue lakes are spotted in Eastern Antarctica, there’s a growing concern among the scientists about its possible effects on its surrounding environment.
The concern came from the fact that they have seen this kind of occurrence before – in Greenland.
Before we go any further, let us define some terms that will be helpful in this subject.
National Snow and Ice Data Center or NSIDC defined ice shelves as permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass. Ice sheets, on the other hand, are a mass of glacial land ice extending more than 50,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles).
Between 2011 and 2014, Greenland’s ice sheet lost 1 trillion tons of ice mainly to the appearance of these lakes.
Although Greenland’s ice sheet started melting since 1990s, it is evident that its ice sheets are melting at an accelerating rate recently according to a new, open-access study published in Geophysical Research Letters.
The same thing can happen in East Antarctica’s Dronning Maud Land.
East Antarctica was considered “impervious” and believed that this is an area that is unaffected by climate change.
Dr. Stewart Jamieson, a lecturer in the Department of Geography at Durham University, said, “[East Antarctic is] the part of the continent where people have for quite a long time assumed that it’s relatively stable.”
However, an analysis of satellite images and metrological data taken of the Langhovde Glacier in East Antarctica concluded that between 2000 and 2013, nearly 8,000 of these lakes had formed for the first time.
This is an implication that Antarctica, which is said to be the coldest place on earth, is also not immune to the rising temperature the Earth is facing today.
There are three things that could happen if lakes continue to form in the future: (1) they may disappear through refreezing, which is something that we look forward to (2) drain vertically through the floating ice (3) overflow into rivers on the surface that drain into the ice below.
Option 2 and 3 can cause serious problems because they can weaken and disintegrate ice shelves and ice sheets.
Researchers also fear that the fresh water that flows outward to the sea from the base of a glacier can cause a tornado-like flow pattern underwater. This will cause further ice loss is not prevented.
So what is the reason ice shelves and ice sheets collapse? Scientists believe that it has something to do with climate change.
When these lakes started appearing, between 2012 and 2013, Dr. Jamieson’s team revealed that the warmest summer in the Southern Hemisphere was also recorded that time, with a total of 37 “positive degree days”, and a mean daily surface air temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius in January. Comparing it to the 2007/2008 summer where they had just five positive degree days and a mean daily surface air temperature of -1.8 degrees Celsius in January, this is pretty high.
During an interview with The Washington Post, Dr. Jamieson said, “What we find is that the appearance of these lakes, unsurprisingly, is correlated directly with the air temperature in the region, and so the maximum number of lakes, and the total area of the lakes, as well as the depth of the lakes, all of these things peak when the air temperatures peak.”
This is another indication that climate change is real and this is just the beginning. If we continue to ignore its presence, the more we will suffer in the future because we are unprepared and misinformed. UNFCCC’s COP21 in Paris is a big step, but it shouldn’t end there. Every nation should raise awareness of this pressing problem and establish policies to address climate change and global warming.
No one knows what will happen in the future. If these lakes continue to form and if the ice melts completely, there is a possibility that calamities will happen. Overflowing of water can cause floods. Animals like penguins and polar bears will go extinct. Like how the famous saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” We should act now before it’s too late.