The debate has been intensifying because Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. James Hansen, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth’s average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would “imply changes that constitute practically a different planet.”
Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer, who also advises the advocacy group Environmental Defense, said one of the greatest dangers lies in the disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets, which together hold about 20 percent of the fresh water on the planet. If either of the two sheets disintegrates, sea level could rise nearly 20 feet in the course of a couple of centuries, swamping the southern third of Florida and Manhattan up to the middle of Greenwich Village.
While both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets as a whole are gaining some mass in their cold interiors because of increasing snowfall, they are losing ice along their peripheries. That indicates that scientists may have underestimated the rate of disintegration they face in the future, Oppenheimer said. Greenland’s current net ice loss is equivalent to an annual 0.008 inch sea level rise.
The effects of the collapse of either ice sheet would be “huge,” Oppenheimer said. “Once you lost one of these ice sheets, there’s really no putting it back for thousands of years, if ever.”
The story goes on to detail how Hansen has been blocked by the Bush administration from sharing his research with the public.
When Hansen posted data on the Internet last fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest on record, according to a Goddard scientist who did not want to be identified, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not screened it with the administration in advance. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.
“They’re trying to control what’s getting out to the public,” Hansen said, adding that many of his colleagues are afraid to talk about the issue. “They’re not willing to say much because they’ve been pressured and they’re afraid they’ll get into trouble.”
It’s frightening to read the comments on EZ Writer’s diary and hear from people all over the country who are experiencing warmer weather. There seems to be growing concern about this issue as it becomes an undeniable reality.