Antarctica Day7 - Lemaire Channel

Trip Start Jul 08, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As we kept on sailing south into the Lemaire Channel, we could slowly see the landscape changing into massive walls of ice and rocks.  The wildlife was also a little different, as many species don't venture that far south.  We were once again blessed by a wonderful warm and sunny weather.  We have been told that it is unusual to have such perfect temperature in this part of Antarctica especially for 3 days in a row.  We had been told by the Quarks' staff (our tour operator) a few days earlier that south of the Shetlands Islands, we don't normally see lots of vegetation anymore.  When I set foot on Petermann Island today, I noticed a few patches of grass, very alive and very green.  This was clearly not supposed to be here.  It seems innocent but here, if the temperature increases just a little above 0C a little longer than suppose to, it's enough to weaken all the ice structures of the glaciers.  If one starts breaking apart, then another will follow and so on and so forth.  The risk is not so much the meltdown of the coastal glaciers, as they are in the water already and their meltdown would not affect the oceans water levels.  The danger lies in the melting of the ice on land.  Once the coastal ice gone, then the ice on land will fall more easily in the water.  At the moment, only the Antarctica Peninsula reaches above 0C in the summer (about 3C).  But as more fresh water ice melts down, it will change the salinity of the oceans and in doing so, could likely affect the several currents ruling the weather in Antarctica.  This could mean different weather conditions and the main land below the Antarctica circle (below 66 degrees south) could then reach above zero temperatures. 
Antarctica receives 5 cm of snow per year.  This is very little in comparison with other places in the world.  What makes it different though, is that this snow does not melt.  It has been accumulating for millions of years (since Antarctica broke apart from the Gwandanaland continent).  Today, the average elevation of Antarctica is about 3000m (that's a lot of ice).  In the past 50 years, the world has increased its temperature by 0.75C while Antarctica increases by around 2.5C (some places 6C).  The balance of everything is very fragile here.  Antarctica contains 70% of the world's fresh water supplies.  If all of it melts, the oceans will rise by about 60 meters.  So we could say goodbye to all the sea levels cities in the world such as: New-York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Montreal, Shanghai, Hong Kong only to name a few.  Many fear that the process cannot be turned back and that it is already too late.  Somehow, I feel that the situation is more complicated and that there is always hope, but probably not in the way we could initially think of.  I need to reflect more on this feeling...

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