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antarctica

Antarctica's ice sheet is melting at a rate that's becoming more and more frightening.

In new research published in the latest issues of Nature, a group of scientists report that "the melt rate has tripled in the past decade." From 2012 to 2017, Antarctica lost 219 billion tons of ice annually due to rising ocean temperatures.


Experts believe that humans may have no more than a decade to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the devastating effects of climate change.

In what's referred to as "the dire scenario," ocean waters could rise as high as half a meter by 2070.

If the temperature rises about 3.5 degrees celsius (which is considered more than catastrophic by the United Nations), the Antarctic Ocean would become inhospitable to the shelled creatures that live there, entire industries — especially fishing — would be disrupted, wildlife would die in large numbers, and it would create undoable damage to coasts and property. In fact, many places in the world are already experiencing some of these effects, along with record heat and extreme weather.

Yikes, right?

Here's the thing: We've known for a long time that the ice in and around the coldest continent on Earth has been melting faster than it should, but scientists say we have some time — even if not a lot — to change.

Some progress has been made: The ozone hole is healing, more green buildings are being built, and more and more new renewable energy laws are being passed around the world.

But experts insist that as citizens of this planet, we can and must do more.

Though there's not much that can be done about the ice that's already melted, researchers say if governments and citizens work together we can slow the effects of global warming. But it can't be something we put off until tomorrow.

Yes, the "dire scenario" is terrifying, but there's also hope.

The earth can survive many things. It has before. Instead, the question we must ask is: How long the planet will be habitable for humans and animals if we don't work harder to take care of it?

If governments continue to work together to reduce air pollution, the Antarctica that will exist in 2070 could look pretty similar to how it does right now. And without the dramatic rise in temperature, some species would still lose numbers, but others would adapt, meaning the damage would be less severe.

That's why we all need to do our part to save the planet. It's not just the only one currently fit for human life — it's our home. And the blows that climate change has already dealt should be a call to action.

Call your representatives, vote for greener initiatives in local elections, make sure that your voice is heard when climate change is discussed by the people around you. Go as green as you can, every day. Here are just a few ideas!

Your individual efforts might feel small, but our collective action could lead to huge positive consequences.

Lewis Pugh is the patron of the oceans, and he's super pumped.

First of all, can I comment on how cool that job title is? He got it from the United Nations. It sounds like it should be from Greek mythology.

He's pumped because we just turned Antarctica's Ross Sea into the world's largest marine sanctuary.

24 countries plus the European Union came together on Friday to declare a new marine reserve twice the size of Texas off the coast of Antarctica.


This designation, which will come into effect in December, will turn 70% of the area into a no-fishing zone.

16,000 species of life are estimated to live in or visit the Ross Sea, turning it into a polar Garden of Eden.

That's what the United Nations Environment Programme called it, anyway. And Pugh is pretty happy about that.

"The Ross Sea is one of the most magnificent places on Earth," he said. "It is one of our last great wilderness areas. This is a dream come true."

This new designation will protect a huge range of creatures. Creatures like:

1. Entire colonies of emperor penguins.

Photo via iStock.

2. Humpback whales!

Photo via iStock.

3. This lovely pelagic snow petrel.

Photo via iStock.

4. And their less-snowy but still pretty cousin, the Antarctic petrel.

Photo via iStock.

5. This kind of adorable krill! Run, krill! Don't you know there are whales around here?!

Photo via iStock.

6. We're not done with the penguins, by the way. These chinstrap penguins are now protected!

Photo by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images.

They're more common elsewhere, but there's at least one breeding colony in the Ross Sea.

7. From birds that never fly to birds that almost never land – the albatross!

Photo via iStock.

8. Oh wait, you thought we were done with whales? Nope! Here's a sperm whale.

Photo via iStock.

9. And an orca whale! Whales! Whales for everybody!

Photo via iStock.

10. I know, little crabeater seal, it's a whale extravaganza.

Photo via iStock.

11. How 'bout some birds? Like these skuas, which are like seagulls crossed with bikers.

Photo via iStock.

12. Or this leopard seal, which is like a regular seal crossed with, well, a leopard.

Photo via iStock.

Listen, sometimes animal names are pretty apt, OK?

13. Or how about this bizarre icefish, which is like a cod crossed with a bucket of antifreeze.

Icefish have natural antifreeze chemicals in their blood.

This is a big step in protecting our natural places.

Watching the news, it's easy to get depressed when we hear that we've crossed climate change benchmarksor that a significant portion of wildlife is in danger of disappearing. And these are things we should be concerned about.

But there are still a lot of things that we as a planet can do too. And I know of at least 13 species that might be breathing a little easier today.

We all contain contradictions. It's part of what makes us human.

Walt Whitman wrote, in "Song of Myself":

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"


And it's true. You can be conservative but want to stop climate change. You can be liberal but support rights for gun owners. And though at first glance this juxtaposition, these side-by-side comparisons, might seem fraught, these combinations can also be beautiful.

In fact, the entirety of planet Earth has always been made up of a harmony of forces: fire and ice, wind and water.

These 14 images show that these contradictions and juxtapositions aren't just OK — they're a natural part of the world we live in.

1. Check out the soothing balance between lights deep in Antarctica. One above. One below. Both beautiful.

Image from NOAA Photo Library/Flickr.

2. Meanwhile, in Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, fire and ice – ancient mythical enemies – create an amazing vista together.

Image from iStock.

3. And yeah, lava can be destructive, like this fiery eruption winding its way through a vibrantly green forest.

Lava from the 2007 eruption of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on the island of Réunion. Image from Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images.

4. But though fire is powerful, forests are nothing if not resilient. Like this new tree growing after a fire wiped out a forest in Australia.

Photo by Lucas Dawson/Getty Images.

5. In fact, fires open up the forest canopy, giving many plants a chance to grow, like these beautiful wildflowers. Some plants, like lodgepole pines, actually require fires to spread their seeds.

Image from iStock.

In many places it's the juxtaposition between these two forces — plant life and fire — that create truly beautiful forests.

6. Sometimes places on Earth seem to defy the laws of physics, like these incredible, balancing mountains in China where green trees thrive against the pale, steep, rock face.

Zhangjiajie National Park, China. Image from iStock.

7. Our weather is a balancing act too.

A storm approaches Sydney, Australia. Image from Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

8. A balance that can be both beautiful and tremendous.

Image from iStock.

9. Sometimes it's a balance of what's inside versus outside. This infrared scan of a hurricane highlights the incredible juxtaposition between the howling winds and peaceful eye of the storm.

Image from NOAA Picture Library/Flickr.

10. Sometimes it's the opposite. Things are peaceful outside and roiling inside.

Image from iStock.

11. The ocean is also great at showing this juxtaposition. The Earth is really two worlds, after all — one above the waves and one below.

Image from iStock.

12. Not to mention the way the human world bumps up against the wild one just beyond our carefully constructed borders.

Image from Ryan Pierse/Getty Images.

13. In the grand scheme of things, humankind is just another part of the balance. Balanced both with ourselves...

A single shot shows both the new and the old in Rio de Janeiro. Image from iStock.

14. ...and with nature. Nairobi is one of Africa's fastest growing cities, but just outside its borders is the wilderness of the savanna.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

It's sometimes easy to see the divisions in everyday life and wish we could all be the same. It's tempting to say that we don't need labels or boxes because they divide us, but when you step back and look at Earth from a distance, you can see that it's the balance of multiple different forces that brings it — that brings us — together to make it beautiful.

Scientists have found something mysterious buried underneath the Antarctic ice.

I know this is how a lot of horror movies tend to start, but don't panic. British scientists were investigating a part of Antarctica known as Princess Elizabeth Land.


Princess Elizabeth II stands at the right in this picture from 1933, two years after the land was named after her. You probably know her better as Queen Elizabeth II, the current British monarch. Image from AFP/Getty Images.

Anyway, scientists found what they think is an immense canyon system below Antarctica. And, buried deep within it, a subglacial lake.

This pond is located under a glacier in Norway. Now imagine this much darker, deeper, and nearly 90 miles long. Image from Guttorm Flatabø/Flickr.

The scientists are inferring the lake's presence from subtle patterns they've observed in the ice. To confirm whether or not the lake exists, another team of American and Chinese scientists have flown a plane mounted with ice-penetrating radar over the area to get recordings. They're going to meet up in May to share the data.

If the recordings confirm it exists, the lake will be part of an immense 680-mile canyon system buried under the ice. Current measurements put the lake at about 87 miles long and 12 miles wide.

This isn't the first lake scientists have found trapped under the ice.

Another lake, Lake Vostok, is even larger than this new potential lake, measuring in at a whopping 160 by 30 miles and covered in nearly 13,000 feet of ice. There are other lakes too, including Lake Whillans and Lake Ellsworth.


An artist's diagram of drilling to Lake Vostok. Image from U.S. National Science Foundation/WIkimedia Commons.

Scientists are excited about these undiscovered lakes because they have the potential to be full of weird, isolated creatures.

A student tests the type of submersible used to explore subglacial Lake Whillans. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In 2013 an American team drilled over 700 meters into Lake Whillans, another Antarctic lake. They found thousands of different types of microbes living in the brutal, cold darkness.

These are organisms that might have not had any contact with the outside world since they were covered in ice over 15 million years ago.

The first glimpse of Lake Whillans' bottom. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons.

If scientists were able to find that much life that by drilling down into other lakes, it's definitely possible that more strange, unseen critters could be living in this newly discovered lake as well.

By studying these mysterious, icy denizens, scientists can learn about how life evolves in isolation and how creatures deal with extreme cold and dark. What do these microbes they eat, for example? How did they get trapped? Do all Antarctic lakes contain life? If not, what makes the ones that do so special?

These lakes can help us understand how life works on Earth but also hint at what kinds of life we might find out in space.

Will the oceans of Europa look like Lake Whillans? Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute/Wikimedia Commons.

Antarctica has been home to conspiracies, alien stories, and fictional lost worlds for as long as we've known about it. But it turns out that the real-life continent is just as mysterious as any movie.

Getting to know how life survives in such harsh conditions here on Earth will better prepare us to identify and interact with life on other planets.

It’ll take us a while yet before we come close to encountering creatures on other planets, but it’s cool to remember that there are still places here on Earth we have yet to discover.