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Tag Archives: Antarctica

How fast is Antarctica melting (and a quick calculus project)?

A recent NYT article, Antarctica Is Melting Three Times as Fast as a Decade Ago by Kendra Pierre-Louis (6/13/2018), states clearly that Antarctica is melting, well, three times faster than a decade ago, which is a rate of change statement. Rapid melting should cause some concern since:

Between 60 and 90 percent of the world’s fresh water is frozen in the ice sheets of Antarctica, a continent roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined. If all that ice melted, it would be enough to raise the world’s sea levels by roughly 200 feet.

Any calculus student can roughly check the melting statement.  Antarctica ice data is available at NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet Ice Sheets page. There you can download change in Antarctica ice sheet data since 2002. (Note: The NYT article has a graph going back to 1992, but ends in 2017 as does the NASA data.) A quick scatter plot and a regression line shows that the change is not linear and the data set is concave down. (The graph here is the NASA data and produces in R – the Calculus Projects page now has some R scripts for those interested.)  Now, a quadratic fit to the data followed by a derivative yields that in 2007 the Antarctica was losing 95 gigatonnes of ice per year and in 2017 it was 195.6 gigatonnes per year. Even with this quick simple method melting has more than doubled from 2007 to 2017. The NYT article states:

While that won’t happen overnight, Antarctica is indeed melting, and a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature shows that the melting is speeding up.

This is an excellent sentence to analyze from a calculus perspective. Given that the current trend in the data is not linear and at least about quadratic, then melting is going to increase each year.  On the other hand, maybe they are trying to suggest that melting is increasing more than expected under past trends, for example the fit to the data is more cubic than quadratic. In other words, is the derivative of ice loss linear or something else? If everyone knew calculus the changes in the rate of ice loss could be stated precisely.

Greenland Ice Mass and Data

Vital Signs of the Planet from NASA is a place for graphs and data. The graph here is change in the mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet. On the Land Ice page there is also a graph of changes in the Antarctica Ice. Underneath each graph is a link to data (HTTP), which will give you data for both Greenland and Antarctica ice as well as sea level change. All three sets can be used for linear regression or multiple regression predicting sea level change based on both ice mass changes (recall that melting sea ice doesn’t raise sea levels but land ice does).

Antarctica Ice Hits a Record Low

The WunderBlog has an excellent summary of the current state of Antarctica Ice in their post Sea Ice Extent in Antarctica Bottoming Out at Lowest on Record.  The chart here comes from the NSIDC Interactive Chart and is a full version of the one in the article.

A few tips on using the interactive chart.  On the top left you can click to get a chart for Antarctic or the Arctic. In the top right of the years menu there is a button to press that allows you to download the chart you create as a jpeg or png file. The bottom of the years menu has a scroll down button to get to more recent years. The chart is updated daily.