Antarctica

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AP Photo/Michel Euler

2016 set a new record – it was the hottest year on earth since 1880 when record keeping began and it also marked the third consecutive year of record warmth for the globe. Remarkably, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there was not a single land area that experienced lower-than-average temperatures for the year. Paired with this announcement was another startling development. On January 6, a UK based research team called project MIDAS reported that a large sheet of ice, the size of Delaware, which is almost 2000 square miles, is set to break away from Antarctica as early as this winter. They note that it will be one of the largest breaks of its kind recorded. As a reminder, Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole, is a virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass.

It’s the latest sign of fast warming in the Antarctic Peninsula. The crack in this ice shelf, known as Larsen C, has been growing at an accelerating rate. In total, the rift has grown about 50 miles since 2011 (it’s almost 100 miles long in total). Now, only 12 miles of ice continue to connect the chunk with the rest of the ice shelf (Washington Post, Chris Mooney, January 6). This event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula, said the researchers from project MIDAS in a statement about the rift. The long term result from this expected ice shelf collapse could be to raise global sea levels noticeably by almost four inches. These researchers from MIDAS have been tracking the rift on Larsen C after studying the collapse of Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the sudden break-up of the Larsen B shelf in 2002.

It is staggering to imagine that oceans that cover almost 70 percent of this vast earth could see their levels increase four inches just from this event. Just in the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects that 25 million people living on the coastline are vulnerable to coastal flooding. The impacts of global warming on sea levels, frequency and intensity of storms, and coastal and marine ecosystems have been well documented. Several countries in the world, from low lying islands to coastal countries in Asia and Africa are already facing the impacts of global warming.

Climate change affects people in direct and profound ways – lack of drinking water and food and displacement from their homes. According to the July 2015 report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced from their homes per year since 2008. By that logic, roughly one person is being displaced from their home per second.

This trend simply has to be reversed. It is imperative that the countries around the world honor the Paris Agreement, an agreement amongst 195 countries dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. 2050 might seem far away, but it might be too late if actions are not taken now to protect the earth.