Cancel the Alarm Over the ‘Collapse’ of Antarctica’s Ice Sheets

by Greg Pollowitz

And the alarm has been canceled by Andrew Revkin of the NYT, no less:

Consider Clashing Scientific and Societal Meanings of ‘Collapse’ When Reading Antarctic Ice News

For decades, the inevitability of many feet, even yards, of sea-level rise in a warming climate has been crystal clear. But society’s response, both in stemming heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to eroding coastlines, will always be more a function of the rate of change than the ultimate outcome.

That’s why it’s important to get beyond headlines — including the titles of papers — in considering new research pointing to the inevitable “collapse” of ice sheets in West Antarctica. To the public, collapse is a term applied to a heart attack victim on a street corner or a building stricken by an earthquake or bomb. To a glaciologist, it describes the transition to unavoidable loss of an ice sheet — a process that can take centuries to get into gear, and millenniums to complete.

[Insert, May 14, 6:45 a.m. | I encourage you to read two superb explanatory posts by Antarctic post-doctoral researcher Bethan Davies describing the research and glaciologists' use of "collapse."]

News articles by The TimesTime, the Associated Press and others capture the basics in two new papers, one on six West Antarctic glaciers that appear to have nothing holding back eventual disappearance, accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, and the other taking a closer look at one of those ice masses, the Thwaites Glacier, posted online today by the journal Science.

Some headlines are completely overwrought — as with this NBC offering: “West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Collapse Triggers Sea Level Warning.” This kind of coverage could be interpreted to mean there’s an imminent crisis. It’s hard to justify that conclusion given the core findings in the studies. (Am I trying to maintain a hold on reality or am I a “scold”?)

The rest here.

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