Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Warming to blame for ice shelf collapse: Garrett

ABC News Online, Posted Tue Apr 7

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says there is no doubt the recent collapse of the Wilkins Ice shelf in Antarctica is the result of climate change.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is in the final stages of collapse and scientists are concerned the event shows climate change is happening faster than previously thought.

From above, parts of the Wilkins Ice Shelf now look like giant panes of shattered glass, and Mr Garrett has told the ABC's Lateline program he knows climate change is a factor in the shelf's collapse.

"I don't think that there's any doubt that global warming is contributing to what we've seen both on the Wilkins Ice Shelf and also more generally in Antarctica," he said.

"And it is the case that scientists, because of the fact of the Antarctic's unique and critical role in the world's climate system, are focusing very strongly on climate change research and also potential impacts.

"This is a really significant mass of ice and it is the case that scientists previously had identified that it might potentially start to break away or collapse and that that would be as a consequence of warming."

Mr Garrett has dismissed the suggestion the shelf's collapse is simply the latest in a very long history of such events.

"There are many others in terms of the research that's been identified in and around the Antarctic, and also in other parts of the world, which I think tell us unequivocally that we're seeing climate change impacts," he said.

"So to go to a sceptical position, as we sometime still hear from our Opposition colleagues in Canberra, or from other voices, strikes me as being a little bit out of the realm of what we're actually seeing visually with our own eyes."

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is the eighth Antarctic ice shelf to begin breaking up or to disappear in the past few decades.

Dr Ras Van Ommen from the Australian Antarctic Division says the shelf's collapse confirms fears about the rapid and dramatic effects of global warming.

"It's telling us that the effect of climate change or warming are actually being felt more and more progressively on the rest of the continent, so it's a warning sign, if you like, that in fact the warming is actually reaching Antarctica," he said.

Antarctic treaty

The report of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic research, compiled by 23 nations, says that in west Antarctica the attribution of ice lost to human-driven warming is now strong.

The report warns that a number of climate influences could amplify the ice loss and accelerate future sea level rises.

Mr Garrett, who is in Washington, says more such reports are expected.

"The fact is that we're now entering a period where we are in a position to observe, particularly in the Antarctic, the consequences of global warming and climate change," he said.

"One of the things that I'm doing in Washington is effectively celebrating what I think is a good part of the story on the Antarctic, and that is that we've had a treaty regime in place now for 50 years.

"It is a unique treaty in that it has produced very good cooperative science. It's a treaty which has a strong environment focus. It's also a treaty, given some of the other international developments, which has a strong disarmament and the peace component. It's a treaty that has worked."

Mr Garrett says the treaty prevents mining and exploration for minerals and oil in Antarctica.

"I think that that's a really unique and significant achievement. Australia should hold its head up and say, 'Look, we were a part of that'," he said.

"Now, the treaty itself is absolutely specific and clear; it is for the preservation and the conservation of the living resources of the Antarctic and it specifically precludes exploration and mineral exploitation.

"And the work that's been undertaken in the Antarctic by a number of nations down there, including Australia, has a strong science and research focus. It's not directed towards mineral exploitation at all because that's what the treaty provision clearly rules out."

No comments: