Did they have to make it so pretty?

The NY Times has put together a lovely illustrated story about data collection on Greenland. The story is prettily terrifying, though. The ice is melting, and forming lakes of liquid water on the surface of the ice cap, which then drains away in fast-running rivers that cut deeper into the ice and then drain into holes that run even deeper into the glacier — it’s a dangerous place, and if you fall in, you’ll be swept away and instantly dumped into a pit. It also means the ice sheet is porous and riddled with rot already.

In addition to the personal terror for the researchers, this work is about a process that’s going to affect us all.

But Mr. Overstreet’s task, to collect critical data from the river, is essential to understanding one of the most consequential impacts of global warming. The scientific data he and a team of six other researchers collect here could yield groundbreaking information on the rate at which the melting of Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet.

Is that scary enough for you yet? Hang on, there’s worse: our Republican congress.

But the research is under increasing fire by some Republican leaders in Congress, who deny or question the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change.

Leading the Republican charge on Capitol Hill is Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House science committee, who has sought to cut $300 million from NASA’s budget for earth science and has started an inquiry into some 50 National Science Foundation grants. On Oct. 13, the committee subpoenaed scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeking more than six years of internal deliberations, including “all documents and communications” related to the agency’s measurement of climate change.

I find the behavior of these Republican science-deniers unbelievable. There’s the obsessive derangement rivaling the Benghazi hearings, the appointment of unqualified know-nothings like Lamar Smith and Darrel Issa to play obstructionist games over scientific issues, and the abuse of legal strategies to harass scientists. Someday, we’re going to look back on this time as a period when the American government basically committed global crimes against humanity, as smiling rich fucks did everything they could to impose their ideological delusions on a dangerous reality.

But do read the NY Times article. The aerial views and maps of the ice sheet are gorgeous, and the field scientists are bravely carrying out important work, while the cowards and crooks of congress close their eyes and try to undermine that work.


  1. dick says

    When you believe in a theistic god that will reward you, so long as you & your people follow “his” rules, how can anything go wrong? Oh yeah, blame it on the ….. (fill in the target group of your choice.) Feckin’ edjits.

  2. numerobis says

    And that weakening makes it cold here in Quebec — no garden tomato for me this summer!

    For sea level rise, I thought the principal concern was from below: a good part of Greenland is below sea level, so all that grounded ice can start to float if the bottom melts. But maybe this new research will show we should be even more worried than we already aren’t.

  3. johnhodges says

    GREENLAND below sea level? Never heard THAT; Parts of the ANTARCTIC ice rests on ground that is below sea level. I was under the impression that Greenland has a dry coastline most of the way around. Perhaps in the more northern parts this is not so? Can you refer us to more info on this in Greenland?

  4. says

    That two kilometer+ thick ice sheet has flattened the interior of the island so much that it’s below sea level. The rocky part of Greenland is basically shaped like a bowl.

  5. quotetheunquote says

    That IS very pretty! Wish I knew how to make videos stream so seamlessly.


    Many years ago, I remember seeing a map of Greenland showing the surface level, which shows a huge embayment in the middle, with the mouth facing to the Baffin Strait. Really surprised me, too.

    I presume that some of that would “rebound” over time (recovering from “glacial isostasy” = the land surface having been pushed down by all that ice), but don’t expect that this to happen any time soon; parts of Canada are still rebounding from the Wisconsinian ice sheet, and that retreated about 12 k. years BP!

  6. grumpyoldfart says

    No matter how bad it gets, whoever is making money at the time will pay the politicians to look the other way.

    Hunters already pay $40,000 or $50,000 to kill the biggest elephant or the most famous lion. In the future they will pay millions to kill the last polar bear, the last hippopotamus, the last bald eagle (plus a bonus payment if they can smash its eggs).

  7. brett says


    Hunters already pay $40,000 or $50,000 to kill the biggest elephant or the most famous lion. In the future they will pay millions to kill the last polar bear, the last hippopotamus, the last bald eagle (plus a bonus payment if they can smash its eggs).

    I doubt it. Back when the Passenger Pigeon went extinct, the reaction was shock – and a scrambling effort to find possibly surviving remnant populations which no longer existed.

    More likely is that some of these will only survive in zoos and highly guarded nature preserves in rich countries, carefully interbred with animals at other zoos so as to try and minimize the inbreeding decline.

  8. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @7:
    mentioning “bald eagle”, triggered memory of (I hope) a rumor a few years ago, when the BaldEagle was not only endangered but extremely sparse. There was a bounty on bagging (fatally) the last B.E. :-(
    I hope that was a false memory, spurred by the crisis of near extinction of the bird.
    Protection has produced a (mild) resurgence of BE population. good news.

  9. busterggi says

    ” the cowards and crooks of congress ”

    They aren’t cowards and crooks, they’re Christians which are even more dangerous.

  10. numerobis says

    johnhodges@4: wikipedia provides an example:

    There’s some more verbiage here about Rignot (on one of the two teams that sounded the alarm for the west antarctic) being involved in research on Greenland. From my understanding, the Wikipedia map is probably not quite right: many glaciers are currently grounded well below sea level, and some lead back into the interior. But I may be misreading that bit.

  11. leerudolph says

    PZ: “the appointment of unqualified know-nothings”

    They’re not unqualified. They’re anti-qualified.

  12. hillaryrettig says

    urge everyone to read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, which is about climate change and like all of her work is brilliant.

    tl;dr about the Republicans: (a) greed (they’re being paid not to notice, while their corporate masters are actually looking at ways to profit from climate change), plus (b) the assumption that, whatever happens, they and theirs will figure out ways to cope.