Based on the current rate of Antarctic ice growth, how long until an ice bridge forms between South America and Antarctica?
Lets start with a simplification – if you squint hard Antarctica is a circle. Antarctica, according to Wikipedia, is 14 million square miles. Sea ice this year covered 20 million square miles. So what is the radius of a 34 million square mile circle?
area = PI x radius ^ 2
(34,000,000 / PI) ^ 0.5 = 3289 miles
So the radius of our “circular” Antarctica is approximately 3289 miles.
According to Wikipedia, the distance between Antarctica and South America is 500 miles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_Passage So we need to calculate, what is the perfectly circular volume of sea ice required to increase the radius by another 500 miles?
Using our area calculation,
Area = PI x radius ^ 2
Area = PI * (3289 + 500) ^ 2 = 45 million square miles.
Since 34 million square miles (the land area of Antarctica + sea ice) is already taken, to increase the radius of Antarctica enough to close the gap, ice growth needs to fill in another 11 million square miles.
At say 300,000 square miles growth per year (lets not forget, this year busted records by 600,000 square miles), and via my drastically simplified calculation, we could expect Antarctic ice to close the Drake passage in 36 years – by 2050.
Interestingly 2055 – 2060 is the peak of the coming Little Ice Age event predicted by Dr. Khabibullo Abdusamatov, head of the space research sector of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ astronomical observatory, in his press release in 2006.
This is a very rough calculation, so please don’t take it as a firm prediction – I am most definitely not a polar ice or ocean expert. There are many other factors, such as the brutal winds and currents which blast through the Drake Passage, which would likely impede the formation of sea ice. On the other hand, the growth of ice would increase the albedo of an enormous area of ocean, causing more sunlight to be reflected back into space – though as we are talking about polar ocean, it doesn’t receive much sunlight to start with.
One line summary of story: The growth of Antarctic ice