Whenever I read the latest dire warning from scientists about melting this or rising that, I’m tempted to print the article up and mark all of the qualifying words with a highlighter. If I were more patient, I’d do that with every post I read for a year and publish the results.
This post from CBSNews.com is a perfect example.
It begins with the requisite alarming headline:
Antarctic ice shelf could collapse within 100 years, scientists warn
It then follows with boilerplate wordiness that is mostly hollow vagueness disguised as explanation.
A massive iceberg splintered off one of West Antarctica’s largest glaciers last year, and now, scientists have discovered the “troubling” reason why, they said.
In 2015, an iceberg measuring almost 225 square miles broke off from the Pine Island Glacier, which forms part of the ice shelf that bounds the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recently, while reviewing satellite images taken before the giant iceberg broke off, researchers found evidence of a rift at the very base of the ice shelf. This suggests that the sprawling glacier broke apart from the inside out, the new study said.
The base rift was located nearly 20 miles inland, and could first be seen in satellite images from 2013, the researchers said. Looking at satellite images taken before the 2015 fracture, the scientists discovered that the rift spread upward for two years before breaking through the ice surface. The iceberg was then set adrift over 12 days in late July and early August 2015, the scientists added.
Scientists warn of sea level rise as Antarctic glacier melts
The way the Pine Island Glacier broke apart from the inside out is a sign that the ice sheet is still melting, said Ian Howat, a glaciologist at The Ohio State Univrsity and lead author of the new study.
“It’s generally accepted that it’s no longer a question of whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt — it’s a question of when,” Howat said in a statement. “This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes.”
In fact, the scientists warned that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse within the next 100 years. That would lead to a sea-level rise of nearly 10 feet, flooding coastlines around the world, the researchers said.
Scary stuff, no?
However, “generally accepted” is not exactly a ringing scientific endorsement, although it has great power over the people who want to believe. History is littered with incorrect scientific assumptions that were “generally accepted”.
The warning in the headline is based on the the study’s lead author saying “probability that we may” see a collapse.
The line that comes the closest to explaining the reason for alarm is even more laden with qualifiers:
“If they are actually sites of weakness that are prone to rifting, we could potentially see more accelerated ice loss in Antarctica.”
The statement begins with “if” and hinges on the words “could potentially”. Hardly riveting predictive science.
If I write a thousand words a day I could potentially become a best selling author.
My bank won’t give me a loan based on the royalties I “may” earn with my big “if”. In most of the real world, “maybe” has no currency.
Unfortunately, expensive policy and regulation has been based little more, especially in the last eight years. President-elect Trump already has a lengthy “to-do” list, hopefully reversing the pricey green fantasies of the Obama years is near the top.
Creative Commons/Flickr/Andreas Kambanis