Curbing climate change: Scaling epochs for solutions

By Upasana Bhattacharjee

Scientific analysis currently underway has determined new causes for concern about global warming. There exists a powerful section of the society that believes climate change due to global warming is a myth, but research indicates that the sea level rise has accelerated enough to become a trend in itself. While a rise in sea level can be caused due to several factors, new studies have tried to find longer records for the geological history of the earth in order to piece together existing patterns, if any.

Melting glaciers and rising sea levels

The rise in sea levels varies across places. Some are caused due to the rising and sinking of land, some due to large scale gravitational effects on water bodies and others have a range of local factors responsible. Throughout most of the 20th century, rising sea levels had been caused by melting of land-based glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warmed. The 21st century has seen the addition of melted ice from Greenland and Antarctica. New research concludes that oceans have been rising three times as fast as before 1990.  

Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers are the major glaciers being studied. These enormous glaciers are melting into the oceans at a rapid rate. Scientists are concerned that warm water is undercutting glaciers deep below, possibly to an unstoppable extent.

Drilling for information

MeBo is a ten-tonne machine that was developed at the MARUM research facility in Bremen, Germany. A seabed drilling system, it had been deployed in an expedition to the West Antarctic for some time now. It is a technology facilitating new research that uses sediment samples from the ocean floor.

MeBo retrieves seafloor sediments that would reveal the behaviour of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) during its warm phases in the past. The remnants of the material (and their properties like the range of particles and their shapes) that are dropped offshore by glaciers reveal the activity of the glaciers in the region. These materials are date-stamped by nature through the remains of single-celled organisms. The status of glaciers at phases in the past that are similar to the ones at present (with respect to sea levels or temperatures) will help scientists establish patterns that will give them a better understanding of the present state and might help align mitigation measures accordingly.

What’s past is prologue

The material collected by MeBo is now being examined in Bremen. While research is still underway, scientists have discovered sediments from 70 million years ago, from the Late Cretaceous (when dinosaurs were still alive). It’s possible that the new technology will facilitate records from older epochs as well.

Pilocene, which was 3 million years ago, had carbon dioxide levels similar to today. Scientists hope to collect data from this period to establish significant patterns. Plans are underway to send in a second expedition to gather data for this with a drill ship, the Joides Resolution. The JR can drill deeper into sea beds thus increasing the chances of finding substantial records from the past. This is set to happen in 2019. This drilling technology has potential applications ranging from the mining sector to offshore wind farms as they require geotechnical investigation of the seabed and MeBo provides an alternative to big drilling vessels that can often prove to be too powerful.

Cause for national concern

Sea levels have risen substantially over the past few decades, rising from 1.1 mm per year in 1993 to 3.1 mm per year in 2012. The past five years have served as an indication of further acceleration in this rise. The sea levels are projected rise to anywhere between 5 to 15 mm per year in extreme climate scenarios. While some of the increase is due to natural variability, human factors assume significant responsibility for it.

At a time when a portion of the human race refuses to take responsibility for global warming, these findings work towards driving the point home. Curbing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale must find renewed priorities in national agendas through regulations, penalties or subsidies whilst investing in eco-friendly technology. The new research with respect to mapping previous patterns might give scientists a better understanding of the present status and aid the measures towards curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

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