Ice melt, the coldest things we warm to most

Ice can melt the coolest of hearts, it seems. This week The Guardian revealed its top ten most read environmental stories in 2012; five of them centred on the melting of ice sheets out in West Antarctica and Greenland. Melt rates are in acceleration, overtaking modelling predictions. Even the most earnest climate sceptics are taking note.

Dovetail this with warnings from the European Space Agency that snow cover in Europe and Asia last June was the lowest since satellite records began. Pepper in findings from a recent study that suggest newly formed sea ice increases ocean sunlight absorption rates by more than 50% compared to older sea ice ... triggers to make you shiver?

As the mood of our climate warms up, it manifests itself in weather. These moods appear to be becoming darker, and more frequent. Extreme weather became the new normal in 2012: New York got Hurricane Sandy, Iceland got the tail end of it (I bore witness to that), and Britain got waterlogged (again).

While in global terms the year itself was only the ninth warmest on record, 11 of the 12 warmest ever years have fallen in this century alone. That's an uncomfortable truth. What scientists predicted, and warned, decades ago appears to be unfolding before our eyes. And gaining in momentum. So is there any reason for optimism? Well, perhaps.

Once climate change translates into a force, a reality, that affects people's livelihoods, it starts to garner respect. Extreme weather - that precise term - has become the new darling of headline writers worldwide. This starlet may be our saviour. We switch on our screens, we witness its destructive force, and we want to learn more.

Which is where the ice comes in. The rate of ice melt, that is. The science here is crucial and while most scientists prefer to be neutral arbiters and keep out of politics, it is policy-makers that need their influence so badly. Not just on the underpinning models and dry stats, but the story itself – for it is the story of the ice that will touch our hearts.

Geomorphologist and photographer James Balog has cottoned onto this with his Chasing Ice movie, which captures so movingly the retreat and thaw of the earth's ice for all to see. This film shows the largest iceberg calving ever filmed – 7.4 cubic km of ice crashing off the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland. One of the researchers who was there when it happened said it was like watching “Manhattan breaking apart in front of your eyes”.

If we can be this creative with climatic events, if we can make the science emotive by giving it meaning, then I think we are onto something. This is why I remain hopeful. The global warming agenda needs to mix it up a bit. And maybe draw some inspiration from the poets.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
– Robert Frost

maxine perella

Topics: Waste & resource management
Tags: | extreme weather | film | Fire | weather
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