As the U.N. Climate Change Conference winds down this week in Paris, people in the city can still go see a big, outdoor art installation outside the Pantheon that's been up since the talks began: 88 tons of Arctic ice, trucked in from Greenland, arranged in the shape of a clock, slowly melting into the cobblestones. A visual, tangible representation of what's at stake as the climate changes.
Waleed Abdalati, meanwhile, is watching ice melt - increasingly fast - in its natural habitat, in Greenland and Antarctica. He's director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a former chief scientist for NASA who studies polar ice.
"Ice is an interesting thing because it's binary," he tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "People get it. You see, 'Oh, it was there and now it's not.' And you can see change. Temperature, you know what does 1 degree C mean? It's 1 degree centigrade warmer. So what does that mean? But ice, there's a very visual story that's unfolding there, whereas with temperature it kind of creeps up on us and it's hard to associate with directly."
Abdalati discusses the changes scientists are seeing in glacial ice and sea ice, and what it means for the future of the planet. He says it's not clear how much the sea level will rise as a result of the melting.
"There is the equivalent of about 24 feet of sea level rise locked up in Greenland and about 200 feet of sea level rise locked up in Antarctica. And that's not to say that's all going to melt and all that's going to change this century. But how much will it change? How fast will it change? There are pretty complicated interactions between the ocean, atmosphere and ice that we're getting pretty good at unraveling, but we still can't predict what the likely sea level rise for the future will be. There are wildcards in the system that we're still working to understand."
- Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a former chief scientist for NASA who studies polar ice.
This segment aired on December 9, 2015.