The sleeping ice giants of Antarctica are stirring. Will we wake up before they devour us?
In the autumn of 1913, Karl Jung dreamt of a monstrous flood of yellow waves cascading down from the North Sea through north-west Europe and down onto the Alps. Later in his apocalyptic dream-vision the swirling yellow seas turned blood red amidst “the floating rubble of civilisation, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands.”
Nine months later Jung had a similarly dramatic dream, but this time with a different emphasis: “An Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice…The whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings.”
I thought of Jung’s pre-World War One visions when I read of the stirring of the sleeping ice giants of East Antarctica earlier this year. According to recent research, one of those glaciers—the Totten (larger than the state of California)—is moving slowly towards the Southern Ocean as a result of global warming, with the potential to raise sea levels by 3.5 metres in future decades.
This figure is a worst case scenario, but a sea level rise of even a fraction of that figure could lead to extraordinarily worrying outcomes. In the case of the Totten glacier, warm ocean water is seeping up from the bottom of the sea into the cavity beneath this vast ice giant, which could destabilise the surrounding ice sheet even further. That’s important because East Antarctica has long been regarded as more stable than West Antarctica in terms of its melting ice.
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