Friday, May 26, 2017

Quickening Antarctica

Credit: Matt Amesbury
Currently, only a minute fraction of Antarctica is occupied by plant life, but a new study has shown that may soon change: even modest temperature increases along the northerly curl of the Antarctic Peninsula have dramatically affected the growth and spread of moss banks. Matt Amesbury, one of the investigators, says that if this continues the Peninsula 'will be a much greener place in the future.'

Which is of considerable interest to me, as Austral is set in that much greener place:
I was driving over flat terrain cracked into big polygonal plates and lightly covered in snow. House-sized boulders, erratics dumped by retreating ice, were dotted about like a giant’s game of marbles. Off to the left, a line of trees intermittently visible through gusts of snow marked the course of the river. More trees thickened ahead, and quite soon I was driving through the fringes of the forest, wallowing up and down low ridges, swerving left or right as trees smashed out of the darkness. Crooked spires no more than ten or twelve metres high, bent and warped by snow and ice and wind. I remembered hiking with Mama through a forest just like it the summer we escaped, remembered columns of dusty sunlight slanting between pine trees, moss and ferns thick on the ground. A green cathedral that seemed as old as the world, but had been planted out by ecopoets just forty years before.
Suggesting that climate change will make Antarctica more hospitable to life isn't a radical prediction, but it's a little disconcerting to discover that it's already happening. Here in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, history's drumbeat is quickening. Worst-case scenarios are too often exceeded. Change is the new normal. Reality threatens to outrace imagination.


Blogger PeteY said...

"Reality threatens to outrace imagination"

When Charles Stross says things like that about, say, cybercrime, there's a temptation to just say, well "meh", however disturbing. When it's about global warming, it's downright alarming.

Great premise for a book. I look forward to it, weather permitting.

May 27, 2017 9:14 am  
Blogger Philip said...

Global warming is an issue that generates far more heat than light, creating tribes that are either in total denial or absolute panic. As an engineer, I've found it interesting that popular discourse regarding climate change rarely ventures beyond taking unyielding positions in the form of either hard-line prohibition or doing absolutely nothing. Far more interesting to me is the more difficult process of understanding observed warming in the context of larger trends, and finding optimal solutions that lie somewhere between these popular extremes.

For example, just what is the interplay between man-made influences and more fundamental warming (or cooling!)trends associated with the current inter-glacial, presumably driven by the Milankovitch cycle? Is it possible that one side-effect of CO2 emissions is a deferral of the next Ice Age? And even if not, just where is the optimal balance that involves accepting accepting a certain amount of warming (and the resulting side-effects) to avoid shocking the global infrastructure, and permanently crippling progress in the developing world?

It's interesting to note that our ancestors dealt with just as much (if not more!) change in the form of melting ice-caps and rising seas at the end of the last Ice Age as we might expect to see from continued warming over the several hundred or thousand years. A certain amount of man-made warming is already baked into the cake, and it's unlikely that carbon dioxide levels will be brought under control this side of 500 or 600 PPM, if not far higher. If so, the Greenland ice caps are probably history, and the Antarctic ice possibly as well. The good news is that such melting is unlikely to happen quickly or catastrophically (though what a great story that would make!)

As a science fiction reader, the possible futures that are opened up by climate change make great stages for story-telling. Your book synopsis looks great, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you have done with this!


May 27, 2017 10:44 pm  

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