Posted by: graemebird | May 1, 2007

Antarctica……. The Ice-Harlot.

This is what kerblammo asked me:

“Why do we have to heat up all the ice up to 0 before any of it melts?

When I watch ice melt in the sun, the top melts first, and the rest of it is still sub-zero.

I thought the same would happen to antarctic ice.”

And here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter:

Right. Great question. Good to see one person taking an interest in the topic at hand. And I did answer it TOO. But I think this question deserves a more complete answer. And I might have to do an whole other thread on ANTARCTICA….THE-ICE-HARLOT.

What happened is I was deleting all Casssies stuff. Because you know….. I didn’t want her to be all upset and remorseful when she entered another mind-state. So I thought I better hide her massive spamming campaign (poor kid).

But then in my fervour to get rid of her big spamming exercises so that I could get some sleep I wound up getting rid of my reply to your question.

Ice tends to flow like a slow-motion river. I don’t know the relevant Antarctic terrain..but to be fair you could lose some of the ice in this way, in that it could flow into the sea and then melt. And you might thereby have a net loss of ice if the ice that was flowing into the sea was not being replaced by more-then-the-equivalent-snow.

Some more of that ice could be lost by a blow-drying effect. This works up in high mountain glaciers. Because you get the sun…. which is MORE POWERFUL THE HIGHER YOU GO, don’t forget. (This is because there is less atmosphere BLOCKING the sun, the higher up you are.)

So lets say, particularly up in the snows of Kilmanjaro for just one example… that if you get a dry-wind and powerful-sun working TOGETHER….. that will get a lot of the ice evaporating.

So you might lose a bit of the surface ice of Antarctica in that fashion.

And one supposes its at least conceivable that if you had some powerful-extra-greenhouse-effects going-on……. and a lot more ambient-warm-air, that on the edges of the land (like out in the peninsula) you could lose some tiny amount of ice to straight melting….. since THAT water could POSSIBLY melt in the late summer and make it to the sea.

But how about 100-miles-or-more inland?

How about if some of THAT inland-ice manages to melt…… and so there is a pool of water come March……. sitting on top of 2 kilometres of ice…. most of which is colder then -50 degrees centigrade?

Ifsoever that miraculous-melting-event happens……. then the miracle-waters days AS-a-liquid are surely numbered.

To be sure I can imagine a little bit of melting here and there. But think of any potential melting in terms of THE MELTING as a proportion of the massive amount of sub 50 degrees ice BENEATH that melting?

Now here is some stunning information that might appear counterintuitive……..If for some reason…. the REST of-the-globe is warming……then Antarctica ought to get MORE-AND-NOT-LESS ICE BUILDUP (at least in the INLAND areas.)

I’ll explain why this at-first-paradoxical idea should be-the-case later.

But it ought not be thought that such an eventuality would mean that the Antarctic would thereby automatically be getting colder BECAUSE the rest of the world is getting warmer.

But nonetheless under the above setup…..Antarctica ought to get a lot more snow, if the rest of the world is getting warmer. And INLAND Antarctica at least ought to be thereby ACCUMULATING extra ice when the rest of the world warms up..

Now perhaps this extra snow is not -50 degrees. And perhaps this would mean you had more snow of-the-type not-quite-so punishingly-freezing on the surface as what you’d find 10 m beneath.

But the total volume of ice (at least inland) would likely grow MORE and not less.

Now why do I say this?

Well you see the climate of Antarctica at surface level is mostly cut off from the climate of the rest of the world. Because of the massive CIRCUMPOLAR CURRENT….

The Antarctic-Circumpolar-Current is the strongest current on the planet: MUCH stronger then the Gulf Stream.

And what this circumpolar current DOES…….. is-it cuts off the ground-level-Antarctic from the rest of the worlds climate patterns.

Since the ground-level-Antarctic climate is cut off from the rest of the world…..I suspect that Antarcticas Summer-Climate would then be MORE-directly-reliant on the strength of the sun, during those summer months where the Sun never sets……. but wanders around in the midnight sky with great indecision.

This could be a bit of a project for some of you science students at University. To cheque this particular inference. To tract the Antarctic Climate and see if the Summer-ground-inland-temperatures in Antarctica, more closely relate to the immediate strength of the sun then how it is for most other locations of this world.

Now thats the story at SURFACE-LEVEL anyhow.

But we would expect that warmer average temperatures in the rest of the world, or a greater amount of retained warmth in the oceans more generally…….. We would expect that a warmer globe more generally…would manifest itself by the advent of warmer air pouring into the Antarctics mid-and/or-upper-troposphere.

The extra warmth would evade the blockage that the circumpolar current puts on any warm winds getting to Antarctica at ground level. But it ought evade that cordon sanitaire somewhat above the ground.

And since freezing cold air can hold very little water vapour…….. and slightly warmer air can hold a great deal MORE water-vapour COMPARATIVELY…… then if warmer air is being funnelled into the mid-troposphere above Antarctica……. we would expect far more snowing then in the case of a COLDER rest-of-the-globe.


When it snows, an awesome amount of latent heat gets released (from memory:680 calories per gram) and almost none of it is going all the way to the ground.

Actually Antarctica gets all sorts of “heat inversions”, and these heat inversions may be to do with matters as I’ve just described them.

It might be -45 degrees Celsius at the South Pole sometime or other. But 500m up it might be a balmy -10 degrees-Celsius if one of these HEAT-INVERSIONS is going on.

When water vapour turns to ice above Sydney massive amounts of latent heat is released and I’m claiming that most of it must find its way up into space. Because there would be less resistance to that long-wave radiation above then below……. and in any case that ice will melt on the way down (if we are talking Sydney) and a great deal of that latent heat is then reabsorbed.

But when water vapour turns to ice above Antarctica thats a DIFFERENT MATTER.

Because none of it is going to melt again on the way down (thus reabsorbing some of that LATENT HEAT we talked about)……….. And so far what we know…… is that Antarcticas warmth PEAKED in the late sixties and that she’s increasing the total amount of ice she has……. and that she’s getting colder…..


So far that is how its looking.

At least in the Inland it seems that pretty much all that warmth is disapated and never quite makes it to the ground. Or at least the extra warmth that we got in the late twentieth century didn’t seem to make it that far……….. in such a way as to have a cumulative impact.

But thats just in the late twentieth century. You might be well within your rights to suppose that I’ve made a weak inductive inference, by extrapolating the seeming inability of the rest of the worlds warming to effect inland ground-level Antarctica….. And to then imagine that I know that this place will still be a heat trap for millions of years to come?!?!?!?!.

If you are keeping up with the argument so far you might well be thinking that thiis is pretty presumptuous of me.

So lets imagine that in two centuries from nowi….. for some reason we are getting such substantial heating coming from the rest of the world (greenhouse and not bright-sun extra-heating) that this extra heat pours willy-nilly into the mid-troposphere………..


Well there will be MORE SNOW BUILDUP INLAND… More-and-not-less snow buildup.

Freaky hey?

But yes, you might expect some of the ice to warm up a little. But look at the incredible amount of warmth that is going to have to make it to the ground in order to warm that great vast amount of ice substantially????????????????

To get that vast amount of ice somewhat closer to melting point!!!????!!! (see earlier thread for a rough calculation of JUST HOW MUCH extra energy you would need.)

None or at least little of that extra warmth appears to be making-it QUITE all-the-way to the ground at the moment…

And I would surmise that all this explains the Antarctic cooling, the heat inversions……. and the record of a lot of extra energy pouring into the mid-troposphere and making no known impact at ground level.

I tell you that while from time to time a lot of extra warming may well make it to the ground in Antarctica and begin to have some sort of cumulative warming impact.

But it won’t do this all that often. Since the planet earth is a place where everything oscillates up and down all the time.

I tell you Antarctica, as it stands, circumpolar current intact, its the perfect heat sink. If none of that extra energy pouring into the mid-troposphere is making it to the ground. Then ultimately most of it is just being funnelled into space.


Thats why Antarctica is the harlot continent. Heaps of power and using it for an evil cause.

So until that circumpolar current alters…. Or there is some truly overwhelming extra warmth being generated…. then it looks to me like Antarctica will be a relentless heat sink.

Imagine you have a younger brother who has Ephysema.

And you are told, in strictist confidence, that there is a prototype artificial lung out there, that actually does the job more powerfully then a 25 year old, champion marathon runners lungs do the job.

MUCH more powerfullly….



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