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[Episode #61] – Climate Science Part 8 – Melting Glaciers and Sea Level Rise

In this eighth part of our mini-series on climate science, we tackle the subject of ice and melting, and how much sea-level rise it may produce. What if that viral story about a starving polar bear may not even have been accurate? What does it really mean when we say that a worst-case climate model projects 11 feet of sea level rise, and is that even a plausible scenario? What does it mean to say that sea ice is melting at the fastest rate in 1,500 years? How much sea level rise might actually result from ice shelves breaking off? And how can we relate the latest studies on melting glaciers and ice caps to degrees of global warming or meters of sea level rise? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but our guest in this episode has about as good a shot at answering them as anyone. His nuanced and deeply informed view of what’s happening to our glaciers and ice caps in this 90-minute interview is refreshing, thoughtful, and provocative, and offers an educational counterpoint to the usual simple projections of climate doom.

Geek rating: 4

Guest: Tad Pfeffer is a glaciologist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and professor of civil, environmental, and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research areas include the mechanics and dynamics of glaciers and heat and mass transfer in snow. He has worked on glaciers for 30 years, traveling to Alaska, Arctic Canada, Greenland, Antarctica, and mountain locations in North America and Europe. He has done fieldwork on Alaska’s Columbia Glacier for two decades. Most recently, Professor Pfeffer has become involved with Natural Hazards and assessments of future vulnerability in the water/energy nexus in a future of changing climate. Tad is also active in photography and photogrammetry of glaciers and landscapes, using imagery for both description and analysis of glacier changes. In addition to scientific publications, his photographic work has appeared in exhibitions in the Boulder/Denver area, in American Scientist, GEO (Germany), Geotimes, BBC television productions, and in the movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth, by Nobel laureate Al Gore. Tad’s book, The Opening of a New Landscape: Columbia Glacier at Mid-Retreat, was published by the American Geophysical Union in December 2007.

On the Web:  Tad Pfeffer’s page at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado Boulder

Recording date: December 15, 2017

Air date: January 24, 2018