News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Antarctic scientists seek plumber

Antarctic scientists seek plumber

Bird Island station

Accommodation is comfortable with two to three to a room

The British Antarctic Survey is looking for a plumber at Bird Island research station off South Georgia.

While there will be no call-out charge, frozen pipes and maintaining heating in temperatures of -20C will certainly keep the successful applicant busy.

The £22,340 salary may be low by UK standards, but accommodation is provided and living costs are next to nothing, the Survey says.

In addition they will “enjoy stunning scenery…no junk mail or television”.

“Experience of ducted ventilation systems, conventional radiator central heating and low-pressure oil-fired boilers would be a significant advantage,” it says.

According to Athena Dinar of the British Antarctic Survey – which is also looking for an electrician – the post would suit someone with a love of adventure and ready for “an opportunity of a lifetime”.

“This role is for 18 months, so it would suit somebody single or who has a very understanding partner,” she added.

Unloading cargo

Staff at Bird Island take turns cooking and making bread, so culinary skills would also be an advantage.

Map of Bird Island

Hours can be long, especially if a ship comes in, when you could be spending 12 hours unloading cargo.

However, the philosophy is “work hard, play hard”.

Pastimes can include walking, skiing, snowboarding and learning languages.

Bird Island is the smallest of five BAS research stations. It lies 500 meters off the north-west tip of South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

It is approximately 1000km south east of the Falkland Islands and is accessible only by boat or helicopter.

During the southern hemisphere’s summer months it is home to a staff of 10, including scientists researching the island’s seals, penguins and albatross.

The deadline for applications is Friday.

September 5, 2008

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

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Thames Barrier in the evening

A revamp of the Thames Barrier is likely as sea levels rise

Sea levels globally are very unlikely to rise by more than 2m (7ft) this century, scientists conclude.

Major increases would have to be fuelled by a faster flow of glaciers on the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets.

But writing in the journal Science, a US team concludes that a rise of 2m would need glaciers to reach speeds that are “physically untenable”.

However, even increases substantially less than 2m would cause major issues for many societies, they say.

“Even a sea level rise of 20cm (8in) in a century will have quite dramatic implications,” said Shad O’Neel from the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of
Dr David Vaughan
British Antarctic Survey

“This work is in no way meant to undermine the seriousness of climate change, and sea level rise is something we’re going to have to deal with,” he told.

Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth received some criticism for implying that a rise of 20ft (6m) was possible in the near future, although it did not give a definite timeframe.

By contrast, this latest research tallies broadly with the conclusions of other groups that have examined the question using different approaches.

Fast work

In its landmark assessment of climate change published last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that sea level rise would probably fit in the range between 28 and 43cm over the century, although 59cm was a possibility.

The current rate is about 3mm per year.

But the IPCC specifically excluded the mechanism able to produce the biggest amounts of water quickly – acceleration in the flow of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the world’s two major ice masses that would between them raise sea levels by about 70m if they completely melted.

Most of the ice comes off in glaciers. Scientists know that many of the glaciers have accelerated in recent years – some quite spectacularly. The Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, for example, doubled its speed in six years to about 12km per year.

Antarctic glacier

The acceleration of glaciers is not well understood

But the processes involved are poorly understood, and the IPCC concluded that on that basis it would be unreasonable to draw any conclusions about how far the acceleration might go.

Individual scientists, however, have not be so coy. The team behind the current research looked at what we do know about Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers, about the rates of flow and the factors that might prevent acceleration.

“We don’t really know a speed limit for glaciers,” said Dr O’Neel, “but we can look at what we have today and ask ‘what would happen if they all behaved like Jakobshavn?’

“It’s been going fast for several years now and hasn’t gone another marked increase in speed. Helheim had a brief period at 14km per year, Columbia at nine or 10; so that kind of figure, in the region of 10km/year, seems to be about as fast as it gets.”

To achieve a 2m sea level rise by 2100, by contrast, every Greenland glacier would have to increase its flow rate to at least 27km per year and remain at that velocity for the rest of the century.

‘Scary’ scenario

Antarctica is rather different. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on rock that is mainly below sea level, meaning that warming seas could increase the rate of ice loss, though again the new analysis suggests this is also very unlikely to result in a catastrophic melt during this century.

David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey believes the US team has got its figures about right.

“The point is that whatever happens in this century can only start from present conditions and present rates of sea level rise, and that constrains the rise that can occur this century,” he told.

“However, if you’re looking further ahead than 2100 – and many governments are, including the Netherlands and the UK which are thinking about infrastructure that would last more than 100 years – then that second century still looks quite scary.

“I certainly don’t disagree with them that we shouldn’t be making outlandish statements about sea level rise, and some outlandish statements have been made; but the high end of the estimates here is still about 2m, and woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of.”

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