Warming Seas Drive Rapid Acceleration of Melting Antarctic Ice

www.news.nationalgeographic.com  By Warren Cornwall  4 Dec 2014

A satellite image from November 2013 shows an iceberg called B3, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) across, breaking off Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier and drifting into the Amundsen Sea.
A satellite image from November 2013 shows an iceberg called B3, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) across, breaking off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier and drifting into the Amundsen Sea.

Melting Antarctic glaciers that are large enough to raise worldwide sea level by more than a meter are dropping a Mount Everest’s worth of ice into the sea every two years, according to a study released this week.

A second study, published Thursday in the journalScience, helps explain the accelerating ice melt: Warm ocean water is melting the floating ice shelves that hold back the glaciers.

The two new pieces of research come as officials of the World Meteorological Organization announcedWednesday that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Scientists have long worried that the West Antarctic ice sheet is a place where climate change might tip toward catastrophe. The ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea level by 16 feet (5 meters). The region along the Amundsen Sea is the sheet’s soft underbelly, where the ice is most vulnerable. (See “Rising Seas” in National Geographic magazine.)

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that the glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea—notably the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers—were already doomed to collapse, and at the current rate of melting would be gone in 200 years. A study released Tuesday by members of the same team, published in Geophysical Research Letters, confirms those troubling measurements with ones made by other researchers using a total of four different techniques.

The study shows that ice loss from the Amundsen Sea glaciers has accelerated sharply over the past two decades. Between 2003 and 2011 it averaged an eye-popping 102 billion metric tons every year. Mount Everest—rocks, ice, and all—weighs approximately 161 billion metric tons. (See also West Antarctica Glaciers Collapsing, Adding to Sea-Level Rise.)

The decline is driven less by melting on the surface or changes in snowfall, and more by a speeding up of the glaciers’ journey to the ocean, the scientists concluded. In some cases, glaciers reached speeds of more than a third of a mile in a year as they approached the Amundsen Sea, where they either merge into a floating ice shelf, or fall into the water and become icebergs.

The momentum behind this moving ice means the glacier loss is unlikely to stop any time soon, said University of California, Irvine geophysicist Isabella Velicogna, one of the authors of the new study. Velicogna likened the process to a ball at the top of a hill. “Once you give the first push, the ball just keeps rolling,” she said.  Click here to read more.

 

Google Gets Thousands Of Girls To Program The White House Christmas Tree Lights

www.techcrunch.com  by

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The 92nd annual White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony is getting a tech twist this year. Over 300,000 people, mostly young girls, participated in Google’s Made with Code campaign to program the way the lights will dance on the 56 official White House Christmas trees during this evening’s lighting ceremony.

We don’t know what exactly 300,000 different lighting programs will look like until the actual event tonight. You can watch it live on the official White House YouTube channel at 5 pm EST.

Brittany Wenger, 20, is one of 10 chosen to go and participate in the ceremony tonight. Those in the program range in age from 4 to 20, but most are in their teens or tweens.

Wenger says each girls’ code has a very specific time, down to the “exact second.” She tried to describe how her code will look when it’s time to shine. “Mine kind of starts out blue and turns into a greenish thing and goes like a funnel,” she explained.

Wenger is a student at Duke University and an ambassador for Made with Code. Her skills were first recognized by Google after creating an app to detect breast cancer. She mentioned the White House Christmas tree lights could be programmed by anyone who has access to a computer, but that the program is geared towards and mostly made up of young women.

“Made with Code is more of an introductory learning platform to get girls interested in coding so it makes it super easy,” she said.

Wenger and the other chosen girls are at the White House waiting to see their programmed lights tonight. She seemed pretty excited to be in the same area as the president and his wife. She mentioned that she was also going to get to sit down with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson to discuss the Made with Code program and encourage young women to go into computer science.

When asked if the president’s teen daughters Natasha and Malia participated in the program, she said, “I’m not sure, but I hope they do after this. I want to see a lot more women coding in the future.”

Any girl who wants to program something for one of the trees is encouraged to participate through Made with Code. The White House trees will continue to add more programs from anyone who submits something throughout the holiday season.