A worldwide pattern of climate change has been observed and recorded by scientists around the world for a number of decades. Some of the effects that climate change has had on our planet include melting glaciers, increased sea levels, and an increased prevalence of natural disasters. The climate change phenomenon has been driven by the increased amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases we humans have produced in recent decades, as a result of escalating industrial activity.

Since 1950, the increased prevalence of these gases has caused the Earth’s average yearly temperature to increase by one degree Fahrenheit.Earlier this year, it emerged that our greenhouse gas emissions have even managed to cancel the next Ice Age, set to take place in 50,000 years’ time! These increased temperatures have placed some of our planet’s most fragile and ecologically diverse land areas, habitats, and animal species at risk of extinction.  In June, scientists confirmed that the Bramble Cay melomys – a small rodent which had lived on an island off the coast of Australia – had become the first animal to go extinct, specifically because of climate change.

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Researchers believe that the oceans can absorb up to 90 percent of the excess heat in our planet’s atmosphere, and this has caused the planet’s glaciers and ice sheets to rapidly retreat. Global sea levels have risen by eight inches since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, largely because of the melting ice.

And now, a sobering new study published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal has revealed that the ice sheets of Antarctica may be in worse peril than scientists have previously believed. Study authors Ian M. Howat and Jeremy N. Bassis focused their observations on the Pine Island Glacier of West Antarctica, which is approximately the same size as Texas. This glacier has witnessed a few major calving events – calving is when parts of the glacier melts and breaks off from the larger portion – over the last few decades. These involved the rapid growth of a rift that originally began at the edge of the ice shelf, which then propagated across the width of the shelf.

These calving events near the edge of polar ice shelves are relatively common, but Howat and Bassis have discovered that rifts are now forming further up-glacier than was previously observed. This frightening observation indicates that the Pine Island Glacier may be breaking from the inside out, as the effects of climate change accelerate at an ever more rapid pace.

“It’s showing a new weakness in the ice shelf, and it’s showing the weakness may be extending far up the glacier,” Howat said. “That’s the alarming thing from our standpoint. More importantly, it gives us a mechanism for even faster retreat in the future. Before, we used to have a slow retreat at the edges of the ice shelf. The ocean had to nibble away at it on the edges. This allows the ice shelf to break apart way further inland from the inside out.”

This finding, together with many previous studies that have been carried out on various glaciers around the world, indicate that our planet’s ice sheets – which play a vital role in regulating distant ecosystems all around the globe – could be even more vulnerable than scientists have previously feared.

How Can You Make a Difference?

The melting of polar ice sheets has been driven by humans’ greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, one of the most effective steps we can take in our everyday lives is to recognize when a large amount of greenhouse gases have been emitted in the process of producing the products we consume or the services we use, then actively search for more planet-friendly alternatives.

Animal products such as meat or dairy are highly resource-intensive products that have been estimated to contribute at least 14 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas footprint, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Other organizations, such as the Worldwatch Institute, have estimated that the figure could be as high as 51 percent! In addition to this, the global livestock system occupies around 45 percent of the world’s land resources. 33 percent of the world’s arable land is devoted to growing livestock feed, while 23 percent of the world’s freshwater supplies are used to irrigate livestock feed and the production process of comparable plant-based proteins for direct human consumption requires a far lower amount of land and water resources.

If even one person were to adopt a plant-based diet, leaving meat and dairy off the menu, they could slash their carbon footprint in half. If every person in the U.S. were to do this, then who knows? The vital ice sheets and glaciers of our planet, together with vulnerable species and ecosystems all over the world, might just have a fighting chance at survival.

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As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.

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Lead Image Source: Andreas Kambanis/Flickr

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