Over at the Cato Institute’s blog, Cato at Liberty, climate scientist Patrick J. Michaels recently wrote:

Even though this [the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet] seemed like a very remote possibility, we can now confidently say that human-induced climate change cannot make it happen.

If the EAIS were to melt completely, he notes, sea levels would rise by 175 feet.

But that, he says in the quote above, can’t happen. Whenever someone says something can’t happen, not just that it is unlikely to happen, that gets my attention.

Why, according to Michaels, can’t it happen. He explains:

Global temperatures during the Pliocene averaged around 2-3⁰C higherthan the 20th century average.  But the massive thermal inertia of Antarctica means it probably wasn’t that much warmer there.  Let’s be very conservative and say it was about one degree warmer.

The Pliocene heat load over the EAIS then becomes:

3,000,000 years X 1⁰ = 3,000,000 degree-years.

Now let’s also be conservative about how long human-induced climate change might last, say, 1000 years.  But again, climate change is attenuated over the vast ice-covered continent, so let’s posit we induce a global warming of 5⁰ (which is probably too large), and Antarctica warms half as much.

The maximum heat load over Antarctica then is:

1,000 years X2.5⁰ = 2,500 degree-years.

The Pliocene heat load was 1,200 times what humans could possibly exert on the EAIS, and it still remained largely intact.  Because of that, fears about the ultimate climate catastrophe can no longer even be entertained.


Certainly the math is correct. I’m just not sure of the science. The key fact that led Michaels to do this calculation was in his first paragraph:

This week’s good news is that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), by far the world’s biggest ice mass, was largely intact during the entire Pliocene epoch.  The Pliocene was slightly less than three million years in length, and preceded the Pleistocene, the epoch of the ice ages.

His conclusion seems to follow.

But what’s striking to me is how little notice his short blog post seems to have gotten, given its apparent importance. Is he missing something crucial? Any climate scientists out there who wish to comment?