Glacial Melting No More than a Drop in the Bucket

Published June 1, 1999

While global warming alarmists warn that melting glaciers will cause sea levels to rise dramatically–a Smithsonian Institution exhibit depicts a submerged Washington Monument–Earth’s glaciers are in fact behaving quite differently.

According to John Carlisle, director of the environmental policy task force of the National Center for Public Policy Research, “the advance of the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers, which contain more than 90 percent of the world’s glacial ice, completely contradicts previous predictions that warming would cause these glaciers to retreat.”

“Far from providing scientific proof of global warming,” he notes, “the behavior of glaciers represents yet another powerful indictment of the already-controversial global warming theory.”

Carlisle concedes that proponents of global warming theory are not lying outright when they warn of glacial melting. Some melting of the Earth’s mid-latitude glaciers is in fact taking place. But those glaciers represent only 6 percent of the planet’s total ice mass. In the remaining 94 percent, represented by the Antarctic and Greenland, the ice sheets are expanding. The West Greenland Ice Sheet, the largest mass of polar ice in the Northern Hemisphere, has thickened by up to seven feet since 1980.

It is highly unlikely, notes Carlisle, that future global warming would melt the polar glaciers enough to cause dramatic sea level change. The Antarctic ice sheet is very large and very cold; it would take the West Antarctic Ice Sheet 50,000 years to react to any warming that may be occurring today.

Although climate and temperature may be the dominant factors in determining glacial activity, the author notes that other influences–such as size, exposure, and altitude–make it difficult to predict how glaciers will react to climate change. In Alaska, for example, glaciers are expanding and retreating simultaneously. In the last million and a half years, geologists believe that the ice sheets have expanded to twice the size of today, and then shrunk, more than 20 times.

“Proponents of the global warming theory have been irresponsible in attempting to use glaciers as barometers of global temperature since glaciers respond to a range of natural phenomena that have nothing to do with global temperature changes,” Carlisle noted.

“Vice President Al Gore would have done well to remember this point before he held a major press conference in 1997 announcing that the century-long retreat of the Grinnel Glacier in Montana’s Glacier National Park was caused by global warming.”