What isn’t common is for a world-renowned scientist to warn that there could be a greater rise than that before 2100 – in addition to a catastrophic two to three-meter rise by 2200, and worsening increases thereafter.
NASA emeritus scientist Robert Bindschadler, who worked for 35 years as a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, is sounding these warnings.
He led 18 field expeditions to Antarctica, and has participated in many other expeditions to glaciers and ice caps around the world. Although he recently retired, he maintains an active interest in the dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets, investigating how remote sensing can be used to improve our understanding of the role of ice in the earth’s climate.
He actively developed applications that measure ice velocity and elevation using both visible and radar imagery, monitor melt of and snowfall on ice sheets by microwave emissions, and detect changes in ice sheet volume by repeat space-borne radar altimetry (using satellites to measure ice sheet thickness).
Bindschadler, who has published over 130 scientific papers, has advised the US Congress and the vice president on the stability of ice sheets and ice shelves and served on many scientific commissions and study groups as an expert in glaciology and remote sensing of ice. He also has degrees in astronomy and physics.
A fellow of the American Geophysical Union (2001), Goddard Senior Fellow (2000), and recipient of the Excellence in Federal Career (1989) award, the Antarctic Service Medal (1984) and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1994), Bindschadler continues to be a leader in the public conversation around the climate’s impact on the world’s ice sheets and glaciers.
Truthout recently sat down with Bindschadler for an interview about his concerns about Antarctic glaciers, why scientists are often loath to enter into the debate over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), massive sea level rise in the future, and what he thinks can be done.
Dahr Jamail: Over your storied career with NASA and in the Antarctic, can you start off by describing some of the early warning signs of ACD you witnessed?
Robert Bindschadler: There are places where ice sheets in Antarctica are getting a lot smaller a lot faster than we thought.
Our perspective was that we were going to see a very short interval of a very long time interval of change. Everybody knows ice sheets are very slow and they take a long time to respond. That was our perspective too, and that was what I learned about ice sheets when I was in graduate school.
But as the field and satellite data came in, the picture began to change. We were seeing changes on the time scale of a decade. These ice streams could switch on and off, sometimes very suddenly. The time frame of change was growing shorter and shorter.
We had thought millennia to centuries, but now we’re seeing it in decades, and then we started seeing changes of even a few percent of speed in just a year or two. So we were reeling from one season’s discoveries to the next.
So it was a really exciting time to be doing the work because traditional thought was being cast out again and again and again. Last year’s ideas had to be revised with this years data. It was moving that fast.
As data began to come in of more rapid changes, we had the Keeling curve, and things were changing with CO2 and it really was having an impact on human time scales. The increasing awareness of what was happening on the increasingly shorter time scale was happening across the board in earth sciences. Everybody was starting to see this faster pace of change. Especially driven by the increase in greenhouse gases, CO2 really was driving the system faster.
We were driving the system hard and it was responding on observable time frames. We could see in our own data a change from when we started to make measurements, to this year’s measurements. So ice began to be more integrated into the earth sciences view.
We continued to see more dramatic changes happening in shorter time scales, and this was reflected in the series of IPCC reports.