Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are still some who insist that global warming is either a scientific anomaly or an elaborate scam perpetrated on the public by individuals and groups promoting a nefarious political-environmental agenda. The nay-sayers argue that data that supports global warning is fragmentary, anecdotal and insufficient, and thus demand more tangible proof that global warming is a fact. Two Canadian scientists recently provided it, though there is little likelihood that it will be accepted by anti-global warming ideologues.
The researchers documented the shrinking and, in one instance, the near disappearance of two ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic. The findings are especially significant since ice shelves are much thicker than sea ice and thus less susceptible to melt. Indeed, some of the ice shelves in the region studied by the scientists probably began to form more than 4,000 years ago.
The shrinkage of the Serson Ice Shelf and the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf cited by the scientists in newly published research is dramatic. The former shrank from more than 79 square miles to two small sections that measured less than 10 square miles and 2 square miles respectively. The latter, once measured at more than 130 square miles, fragmented into a two smaller ice shelves separated by open water.
For some, reports of shrinking and disappearing ice shelves in the Arctic might seem to be of little importance. That's short-sighted thinking. Confirmation of melting at an alarming rate in an area where ice shelves have long been thought to be most stable in the face of rising worldwide temperatures is evidence not only that global warming is taking place, but that it is accelerating. The consequences are both immediate and long-term.
In the short-term, the breaking up of the shelves creates icebergs that eventually could endanger offshore oil installations or obstruct shipping lanes. And any reduction in ice detrimentally affects global climate -- higher average temperatures, more and more vicious storms, extended droughts, etc. -- and endangers a broad range of plant and animal life. In the long run, the melt, propelled by steady increases in mean winter temperatures in the Canadian Arctic in each of the last five or six decades, will facilitate dangerous increases in global sea levels. The scenario is hardly new.
Indeed, it reaffirms what scientists have been reporting for years: The release of billions of tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -- gases formed predominately by burning fossil fuels -- and massive deforestation around the globe are propelling climate change that threatens a widening range of natural systems and human activity.
The scientific and environmental communities agree that increased use of alternative energy coupled with major reductions in the use of fossil fuels to cut carbon emissions could slow and, over time, reverse the global warming effects. What's needed is the political courage to promote such action. Reports like the one from the Canadian Arctic should stiffen legislative spines and help quiet the global warming debate. If they do not, disaster looms.