The global temperature data for January and February are in - and it sure has been hot. Both the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the year started with the warmest January since record-keeping began. Global temperatures were 0.69 degrees Celsius (1.24 degrees Fahrenheit) above the long-term average. In large areas of North America and Central Asia, January was an astonishing 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. February was also extremely warm, according to the GISS figures, although the month came in second to the record February of 1998.
The call comes as scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) revealed that the 200 metre-thick Larsen B ice-shelf, on the eastern side of the peninsula, had broken up into small pieces.
Speaking at the launch of Climate Change: The Burning Issue, a new exhibition at the Science Museum in London, Mr Meacher said the rapid decline of Larsen B was ``the most significant evidence of continuing climate change... It's an indication of global warming which is extremely stark and the implications are that we have got to arrest climate change and adapt to it. But above all, we have got to reduce it. If we don't then the average temperature will rise between 1.5C and 6C in the next century. We need a dramatic and fundamental change in our society, our culture and industry and in our personal lives.''
Once the Larsen B collapse was confirmed, a BAS research ship navigated her way through the armada of icebergs to obtain photographs and samples. Data obtained will now be pooled to help determine when a similar event happened last and identify which ice shelves are at risk in the future. Experts believe global warming could have caused the break-up but there were also regional changes in temperature in the area. But the phenomenon was ``patchy'' and it is unlikely that sea levels would rise because the shelf was already floating, they said. Levels would only rise if land ice behind it flowed more rapidly into the sea.
Dr David Vaughan, a BAS glaciologist, said: ``In 1998, BAS predicted the demise of more ice shelves around the Antarctic peninsula. Since then, warming on the peninsula has continued and we watched as piece-by-piece Larsen B has retreated. We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering. It's hard to believe that 500 million billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month.''
Meanwhile, the BAS's US counterparts have revealed that an iceberg nine times larger than Singapore has broken free from Antarctica. B-22, which is 40 miles (70kms) wide, 53 miles (80kms) long and covers 2,130 sq miles (3,216 sq kms), broke away from an ice tongue in the Amundsen Sea, south of the Pacific Ocean.
Mr Meacher later issued a statement which said: ``The continued collapse of ice shelves at the Antarctic peninsula is a great cause for concern. I think it is a wake-up call to the whole world, that when an ice shelf of such enormous proportions can break up, that shows the effect we are having on the planet. The rapid warming at the peninsula is broadly consistent with global warming but it is not understood why its rate of warming is so much greater than the global average. The potential reasons could possibly include local processes amplifying global warming, change in local ocean currents and natural variability. There have been a series of major ice sheet collapses over 10 or so years as a result of this warming. It is not possible to say that such collapses are proof of global warming, but they are certainly consistent with a warmer world.''