The ice sheet in question is larger than Mexico, and it will only take a small amount of global warming to cause the whole thing to disentegrate. This in turn could potentially raise the sea level by more than three feet — as soon as the year 2100, the study’s co-author Robert M. DeConto told The New York Times.
And by 2500, if the warming continues at the same rate, the entirety of Antarctica will push sea levels up by roughly 50 feet, according to the new paper.
The new projection “nearly doubles” prior estimates of sea level rise because previous models only accounted for a “minimal contribution” from Antarctica, DeConto told The Washington Post.
Previous projections of sea level rise relied simply on the melting of “relatively small” glaciers, and didn’t account for the complete disintegration of the massive Antarctic ice sheets, reports The Washington Post.
Scientists who developed previous models didn’t fully comprehend how vulnerable Antarctic ice is to small increases in temperature, reports The New York Times.
“You could think of all sorts of ways that we might duck this one,” said Richard B. Alley, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University told The New York Times. “I’m hopeful that will happen. But given what we know, I don’t think we can tell people that we’re confident of that.”
This amount of sea level rise could completely devastate much of the world’s coastlines
Major cities, like New York, Miami, and Hong Kong could become uninhabitable in just a few hundred years, if we don’t slow down emissions-related warming.
“We are not saying this is definitely going to happen,” David Pollard, the study’s co-author told The New York Times. “But I think we are pointing out that there’s a danger, and it should receive a lot more attention.”
Building upon previous research, Pollard and DeConto theorised that as warming continues, the smaller ice sheets surrounding the West Antarctic Ice sheet would melt. This would cause the formation of massive, unstable ice cliffs facing the ocean.
The authors then programmed their model with future human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The result: The massive ice cliffs of West Antarctica would start to disintegrate as soon as 2050, rapidly accelerating sea level rise and quickly pushing us into the gloomy scenario that DeConto’s and Pollard’s study predicts.
Other scientists agreed with the paper’s findings.
“People should not look at this as a futuristic scenario of things that may or may not happen. They should look at it as the tragic story we are following right now,” Eric Rignot, an expert on Antarctica’s ice sheet and an earth sciences professor at the University of California, Irvine, told The Washington Post. “We are not there yet … [But] with the current rate of emissions, we are heading that way.”
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