I went out with one of my mates to Huddersfield on Sunday night. After watching the latest Nicholson flick, The Departed (absolutely superb), we went on to the pub. As I am tee-total I usually have a Diet Coke with ice and no lemon. Normally a drink is consumed long before the ice gets a chance to melt.
However, on this occasion, we were so busy talking away it was at least 40 minutes before I took my first sip. As I reached for the glass I noticed that all the ice had melted into the drink. I also noticed that the level of the drink was exactly the same as what it was when I took it from the bar. The question is: if a considerable amount of ice can disappear without raising the level of the drink, why are we conned into thinking that melting polar ice caps are going to raise sea levels by catastrophic proportions?
We have all read and digested the propaganda. Stories abound such as the disappearance of vast swathes of coastline. Three years ago I went to the Orange parade in Scarborough on the last Saturday in July. After watching the participants, my mate and I played football on the beach. This year my father went to Scarborough in early August. Between those two dates it has been reported that the Arctic ice shelf (the cryosphere) has shrunk by 22%. Winter sea ice has contracted by 40%. I asked him yesterday whether the beach he visited was the same size as three years ago. He assured me Scarborough was no closer to becoming the Yorkshire version of Atlantis than it was in 2003. Some would regard this assurance as a devastating blow.
For the answer look to Archimedes's Theory of Displacement (the bathtub experiment): the relationship between the weight/dimensions of an object and the amount of water the object displaces. As all ice is simply an existing part - rather than an addition - to the aquatic ecosystem, the level of oceans around the world would remain relatively constant if the ice changed into another form of matter, ie. liquid water. If a room is 500 cubic feet and a large block of steel already occupies 5 cubic feet of space, the room would continue to have 495 spare cubic feet of room irrespective of whether the steel block was in molten or solid form.
Like so many environmental tales of woe, the arguments of apocalyptic melting ice sheets must be taken with a pinch of salt. Undoubtedly they are melting. In that case we should be attempting to help the animals living there by practical means as well as accepting that polar disappearance could be part of the planet's cyclical warming/cooling processes, instead of continuously apologising to the 'green' lobby for the way we choose to live our lives.