Saturday, November 8, 2014

DoD, IPCC, GOP – all spell out trouble

Iceberg in Ross Sea, Antarctica seen from bridge of 
icebreaker N.B. Palmer. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Over the last two weeks significant news has occurred on the Climate Change front. First was the report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the security threat posed by Climate Change, second was the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and last was the takeover of the U.S. Senate by the Republican party (GOP).

The DoD report analyses the U.S. military’s place in combating and adapting to climate change. The U.S. has over 7000 bases around the globe all of which need to deal with Climate Change. Defense Secretary Hagel, who as senator once signed a resolution labeling Climate Change as more or less baloney, has come around. “… we will integrate Climate Change considerations into our planning, operations and training,” he told an audience recently.

The IPCC report follows on its last one in 2007 (AR4). (For a brief note on what, who the IPCC is go here IPCC .)

What has changed since the AR4 is that the situation has worsened and the time to address Climate Change has shortened.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Antarctic Snow School, German style

Excerpt from Chapter 11. 
GANOVEX VII team practices crevasse rescue at 
Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. 
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk 

[Scene. Bruce and Christine are part of a German Antarctic expedition. Before departure for the Antarctic the GANOVEX expedition trained for snow and ice safety at Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand.]

“Tomorrow they’re goin’ to fly us up to the peaks to practice crevasse rescues.” Chris said she had heard their plan. Early next morning helicopters took us up to a broad snowfield perched in the highest peaks of the park. It was summer in New Zealand but sunny winter up there. The experience to fly up the faces of the cliffs to the peaks can’t be imagined – the vertical relief must have been near a mile. The pale blue glacial waters of Lake Pukaki lay below us as we ascended above the tree line, flew by the gray rock above and below – a magical elevator ride where at the top floor we landed in a brilliant white snow plateau settled between black sawtooth peaks under a clear deep blue sky.

Bradley was our instructor, a middle-aged man like me, Kiwi, soft-spoken, grayed, weathered. He pointed to a snow canyon at the base of a peak about 500 yards away from our group. “That snow scoop over there is more than fifteen stories deep, has a nice vertical cliff edge - we’ll practice crevasse rescues there,” he said. We walked across the snow over to the canyon - a deep chasm in the snow carved by incessant winds that rebounded off the peak next to it. The scoop, a couple of hundred yards across, semi-circled the peak, as a part moat - I could see its walls left and right of where I stood. They extended down for almost two hundred feet. My stomach turned over. I looked at Chris as to say “Holy shit. Is he kidding?” but I didn’t, because he wasn’t.

Bradley explained. “Three people will tie-in on a rope, walk in a line towards the edge. The lead person jumps off the cliff and the other two drop to the snow, arrest the fall, then pull the man out with a Z-Pulley1 rescue setup. Monty and I will show you how to rig it.”

We had done this in McMurdo Survival School a couple of years ago, but not over a canyon, nothing like this. I looked around at my classmates. Most had experience, not all of them looked in top physical shape. We had a few former East Germans with us, no Antarctic expeditions on their résumé.

My turn, I tied–in at the lead of the rope, two burly Germans tied-in behind me about fifty and a hundred feet back. Had they done this before? I walked to the edge, didn’t look down and jumped off. I fell, hit the snow wall, and bounced. The rope stretched. I jerked to a stop about forty feet down. The Germans caught my fall. I looked up to see Bradley at the cliff edge - pieces of snow I had knocked loose fell past me. I gave thumbs up, acted like I was cool. He acknowledged then helped the two guys on the rope above me rig the Z-Pulley. I waited at the end of the rope. Then I felt heave stop, heave stop, and repeat. They dragged me up to the edge. I was pulled over the lip and out. I thought, that was fun, but did I need to have the crap scared out of me?

 1 A Z-Drag or Z-Pulley is an arrangement of lines and pulleys commonly used in rescue situations. The basic arrangement provides a theoretical mechanical advantage of three. The name comes from the fact that the arrangement of lines is roughly Z shaped. Besides the mechanical advantage to pulling, it also uses only part of the total length of the rope for the block and tackle arrangement. (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Antarctica, Sea Level and Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara sits atop a marine terrace bounded by sea cliffs 40 to 50 feet high.
Santa Barbara  Airport is in the background. Photo © UCSB Photo Services.
In prior posts (June 9; May 20) I presented some of the factors of predicted global sea level rise and Antarctica’s role in it. If a reader were to accept the sea level rise projections of the IPCC and other scientific authorities, they might ask, “What will be the impact on me and my family, and what can be done about this?”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Antarctic sea ice cover is increasing. Is Global Warming over?

sea ice Ross Sea. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Sea ice, Ross Sea, Antarctica, 1996. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Recent news items have drawn attention to Antarctic sea ice, the floating ice a meter or so thick that forms from freezing of the oceans surrounding Antarctica. Sea ice coverage is seasonal, more in the austral winter (June-September) and less in the summer (December-March), a difference of six-fold. A way to think of the scale is that the maximum extent of the sea ice about doubles the area of ice (land and sea) at the bottom of our planet. The story is that a glitch has been discovered in the estimate of the rate of change (change year over year) in the area of sea ice around Antarctica1,2.

Underlying the news of the glitch is the prior observation that the amount of sea ice has been increasing year over year. This is opposite the observation for the Arctic Ocean where famously, sea ice area has been shrinking year over year3.

First about the glitch; this is due to a difference in the methods used in computing Antarctic sea ice cover from satellite imagery. The method was changed in 1991.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Antarctica, the Ozone Hole, and Global Warming

Mount Erebus, Ross Island, Antarctica from above the clouds.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Are Global Warming and the Antarctic Ozone Hole related? Yes. Before I explain that, some basic facts. 

We live in the lower part of the atmosphere called the troposphere where Global Warming is taking place. Above the troposphere is the stratosphere where the ozone hole develops over Antarctica in Southern Hemisphere Spring. Most of us have been near the top of the troposphere – that is where transcontinental jet aircraft fly – about 11 kilometers up (35,000 feet). Another fact – ozone (a molecule of three oxygen atoms - O3) in the stratosphere is good. It shields us from the Sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation that causes skin cancer. Ozone in the troposphere where we live is bad – a health hazard and greenhouse gas. It is generated there by industrial activity.

So what’s happening and what’s the connection? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Antarctica: The Problem Child of future sea level change in this century

icebergs in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Iceberg Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

A few weeks ago I posted about discoveries that showed dynamic collapse of marine-based parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is underway (May 20, 2014). What I want to explore now is the current thinking of scientists on the role of Antarctica in sea level change this century.

It will come as no surprise that sea level is projected to rise from the influence of global warming. This is discussed in both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR5 report (Assessment Report Five 2013) and the 2014 National Climate Assessment. What do these reports say about sea level change and Antarctica’s role – and do the reports address the dynamic collapse scenarios revealed by studies published in the last few months?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Antarctic Ice Sheets – the fuse has been lit.

snowmobile and sledge cross blue ice on Balchen Glacier, Marie Byrd Land. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Snowmobile party crossing blue ice of Balchen Glacier, 
Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Have the Antarctic Ice Sheets reached the Point of No Return? My last entry was an excerpt from my memoir about flying past the Point of No Return (AKA Point of Safe Return) in route from Christchurch to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This entry is about an entirely different PNR, that where the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is lost.

Two research studies published in the last few weeks have confirmed what has been feared; the PNR for stability of the ice sheet has been passed.

The WAIS covers the subcontinent of West Antarctica in thousands of feet of ice.
About the area of Mexico, if the WAIS melted entirely sea level would rise an average three meters around the world (ten feet).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Big Dead Place - The Man Who Loved Antarctica

Reprinted here is my Amazon review of this book…

Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarctica
by Nicholas Johnson

Photo of Birchall Peaks taken from Maigetter Peak, Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Snowmobiles in the Birchall Peaks, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk 

Although Big Dead Place was published over nine years ago it has remained in the spotlight.

HBO planned a miniseries based on the book. The actor James Gandolfini pushed the project as a producer and was expected to star in it. Peter Gould of Breaking Bad was to do the screenplay. Gandolfini died in June 2013. Ironically, Johnson committed suicide in late 2012. Whether the project goes forward or not remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the book remains a first in memoirs of Antarctic experiences in its unflinching, no-holds-barred exposé of what it means to work in Antarctica as an underling to the institutional mission - which is to stake a virtual claim of Antarctica for the U.S.

Monday, April 21, 2014

AAAS; What We Know – about Climate Change, Antarctica

Terra Nova Bay, Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Photo © B. Luyendyk
The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) recently issued a web page and a short booklet ( ) addressing issues revealed in the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes) over the past few months. One of the main goals of their statement is to address the misunderstanding among the general public that there is significant debate in the Climate Science community about the basic tenets of Climate Change. This is not true. The debate that is occurring surrounds science questions on processes and predictions among other topics, not that Climate Change is happening, is a significant threat and that humans are causing it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

FORCE Team explores Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica

Hercules from VXE-6 unloads FORCE team, Marie Byrd Land,
Antarctica, December 1989. Photo © B. Luyendyk
Our work focused in on the Fosdick, Phillips and Chester Mountains in the northern Ford Ranges. Earlier geological parties had visited some locations we worked in before but many had not. We were the first to stand on many of the outcrops.

Our main focus of work was in the metamorphic massif of the Fosdick Mountains named after Admiral Byrd’s good friend Raymond Fosdick. Sledge parties from Byrd’s expeditions reached these mountains in 1934 and 1941. Geological parties explored the surrounding mountains in 1966 through 1969. New Zealand geologists visited various portions of western MBL in 1978-79 and 1987-88. The western regions of MBL including the Ford Ranges are vast, comparable to southern California in area but not climate! Because of the size of the region the earlier explorations were of a reconnaissance nature.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The FORCE Expeditions (Ford Ranges Crustal Exploration) 1989-90, 1990-91

Tucker, Steve, Cain, Dave, Bruce and Christine, Put-In day to Ford Ranges.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk   
White Ocean of Ice deals with investigation of plate tectonic history in the Southwestern Pacific. Our team of geologists sought out information on the separation of the New Zealand subcontinent on the Pacific Plate from the main continent of Antarctica – the Antarctic Plate. The result of that separation created the modern South Pacific Ocean basin.

We knew from oceanographic studies that this sea floor had formed since about 80 million years ago but we did not know how and when that process started and led to the drifting of New Zealand away from West Antarctica. Research in New Zealand by members of our team and many others revealed some facts, but did they match observations is Antarctica? Those were few and difficult to make. We decided to go to Antarctica to find answers to these questions. The U.S. National Science Foundation supported our research.

Our work focused in the Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica, a location that was believed once joined with New Zealand. We learned from several lines of evidence that the whole process of plate breakup brewed for more than twenty million years. It began close to 105 million years ago before separation took off.

We also studied a very special variety of metamorphic rocks (rocks transformed by intense heat and pressure) in the Fosdick Mountains of the Ford Ranges. We found that these rocks had been exhumed from many miles deep in the Antarctic crust as the plate breakup process got underway. This was a result of stretching between the plates. Upper levels of crust thinned and allowed the lower levels to rise up and create the mountains. Research in this mountain range continues today by geologists at Colorado College.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

White Ocean, Richard Byrd and the Ford Ranges

Birchall Peaks.  Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Richard E. Byrd first explored Marie Byrd Land (MBL) in West Antarctica in the early part of the Twentieth Century in three expeditions. Byrd’s expeditions were the first to discover regions east of the Ross Ice Shelf visited by Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. Based from Little America near the Bay of Whales on the eastern front of the Ross Ice Shelf, near where Amundsen had set up his base Framheim, Byrd and his crew first sighted the vast interior of parts of the subcontinent of West Antarctica on exploratory flights in 1929. He named this region Marie Byrd Land after his wife. Many other geographical features of MBL were explored by air and by dog sledge parties over the three Byrd expeditions. Significant geographic features he named after his friends and sponsors. The Ford Ranges recognize Edsel Ford of that famous family, one of the prime financial backers of his expeditions.

White Ocean of Ice is focused on my visits to the western portion of MBL and the Ford Ranges and Edward VII Peninsula during 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1992-93. The geologic expeditions to the Ford Ranges took place eight hundred miles from McMurdo Station, the main U.S. base. Our team of six explored the northern portions of the Ford Ranges by snowmobile and sledge, living in tents. These types of expeditions have special names within the Antarctic experience - Deep Field, or Remote Field - that means well beyond helicopter range, support and rapid rescue from the main base - we were alone and always in survival mode.

My memoir is a window into a special style of science investigation in Antarctica, and how it affected me, even to this day. My book conveys the experience of finding myself in a unique place of unfamiliar extremes and uncertain challenges. It is a story of the discovery of Earth’s secrets and of my own.

For more about Marie Byrd Land click here

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Antarctic Ice Sheet - growing or shrinking?

Posted by SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research):

"What will Antarctica and the Southern Ocean look like in 2065?"

The 1st Martha T. Muse Fellows Colloquium; 22 April 2014; Queenstown, New Zealand

"Many forecasters and futurists tell us that in 2065:
  • the world's human population will be 8.5 billion,
  • atmospheric CO2 levels will exceed 650 ppm under a business as usual scenario,
  • the Arctic ocean will be ice free in August and September,
  • average global temperature will 4°C warmer than in 2000,
  • ocean pH will be less than 8.2, and
  • sea level will be ~26 cm higher than in 1990.
What will these dramatic changes to Planet Earth mean for the world's last great wilderness and a bellwether of global change – Antarctica and the Southern Ocean? To speculate about this future world and the ramifications for human societies, the "1st Martha T. Muse Colloquium" will convene a panel of the Martha Muse Prize awardees and guests to address the topic "Beyond the Horizon – Antarctica and the Southern Ocean 2065" in Queenstown, New Zealand on Tuesday, April 22, 2014."

Barnett Glacier.  Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
We now know from at least four lines of evidence that the greatest ice sheet on Earth is shrinking under the assault of global warming.

Where is the political will to act?