Antarctic ice mass balance changes from 1979 to 2016. Graphic: Eric Rignot

By Veronika Meduna
14 February 2017

(The Spinoff) – US-based glaciologist Eric Rignot is in New Zealand this week to talk about polar ice sheets and their potential to add to predicted sea level rise. He tells Veronika Meduna that it’s more important than ever to discuss climate science and what it’s like to be a climate scientist during the Trump presidency.

Eric Rignot is based at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he’s been tracking changes in ice mass in several glaciers in West Antarctica for two decades. He hit the headlines in 2014 when his research showed that the Amundsen Sea region in West Antarctica had entered an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

The glaciers are particularly vulnerable because they are grounded below sea level, and they sit on sea bed topography that allows the warming ocean to slip in underneath and to melt them from below.

The Spinoff: So are these glaciers headed for total collapse?

Eric Rignot: I’d been studying that part of Antarctica since 1996, and in 2014, I came to the point … that we have learned enough and had looked at the system long enough and collected enough data to come to the conclusion that this part of Antarctica was in a state of irreversible retreat. This was the marine ice sheet instability people talked about in the 1970s, and it was right there in front of our eyes.

The key moment was really to get to the point where we’d mapped the bed topography in enough detail and don’t have questions marks anywhere in any of these troughs. They are all pretty much conducive to marine ice sheet instability. And the grounding line is retreating faster there than anywhere in the world.

After 14 years of observations you can say what’s happening there is big. It’s unique and it’s important. The message has to go out for people to know that there is enough scientific certainty to say that there is something very significant happening there. [more]

‘There’s a lot at stake here.’ US Antarctic expert Eric Rignot on climate science in the age of Trump

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