Two studies have concluded that the collapse of the Western Antarctic Sheet may now be "irreversible". This could ultimately mean a 10-foot sea level rise.
By: Amanda Froelich,
“The Earth isn’t heating up!” a wrinkled-face man in South Dakota, USA spat into my face while chewing on a blade of grass. He was approximately 4’9”, yet had the stern gaze and well-worn stance of a guy who knew it all. “That’s just a bunch of environmental bull….”
He drew out those last words slowly, as if the mini gears in his brain were trying to make sense of the possibility that such a shift could ever happen.
In such a predicament, there is no use refuting such a remark. But if that’s the mindset of most Americans, then these recent studies are sure to stir up such a deluded belief on a large scale.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, the globe’s great ice sheets contain enough frozen water to raise sea levels worldwide by more than 60 meters – or about 200 feet. That means all sea levels that have already risen – a testament to global warming – will seem piddly and insignificant.
This finding has long been feared by scientists who recognize it as a sign that a 10-foot sea level rise is now irreversible. Two new findings, published in Science and Geographical Research Letters report that major glaciers that are part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to have become irrevocably destabilized.
According to NASA, the whole process may still play out on the scale of centuries, but due to particular dynamics of this sheet, the collapse of the major glaciers now “appear unstoppable”.
NASA and the University of California-Irvine teamed together for the first study which used satellite radar to examine an array of large glaciers among the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, which collectively contain the equivalent of four feet of sea level rise. What the studies document is a “continuous and rapid retreat”- for instance, the Smith and Kohler glaciers may have retreated 35 kilometers since 1992 – and the researchers state that there is “no [major] obstacle that would prevent the glaciers from further retreat.” In the NASA press release, the researchers are even more vocal, with one of the researchers noting that these glaciers have “passed the point of no return.”
The second group of scientists from the University of Washington concluded similar findings with their paper in Science. But they instead used a computer model to study one of the glaciers in particular: The Thwaites Glacier (pictured below) which contains about two feet of sea level rise and is retreating fast. “The simulations indicate that early-stage collapse has begun,” noted their paper. What’s more, the Thwaites Glacier is a “linchpin” for the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Considering that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels by 10 to 13 feet, this is a really big deal.
While the notion of global warming is a highly debated topic, it’s time studies be objectively accepted so that sustainable change can be implemented as soon as possible. Just because these glaciers have reached the “point of no return” does not mean that dramatic sea level rise will happen tomorrow. There is a limit to how fast glaciers and melting ice sheets can move, and the entire process may take several hundred years and possibly even a millennium, according to Science.
To accept such clear proof of Global Warming is a necessity for everyone. The consequences of a 10 to 20-foot sea level rise would be dramatic; in fact, it’d result in a changed planet. Climate Central took the time to map what the iconic US would look like in result of the West Antarctic Glacier’s collapse:
The Jefferson Memorial
Ocean Drive, Miami
The Statue of Liberty
Venice Beach Boardwalk
San Diego Convention Center
And other haunting – yet motivating – images can be seen at “The Raw Story”.
According to glaciologist and Greenland expert Jason Box, when you compare where we are now to when the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and ocean levels stood in past warm periods of Earth’s history, you can infer that human beings have already set in motion 69 feet of sea level rise.
Regardless of background, egoistic beliefs, or social inhibition to act as an ambassador for the environment, such change is desperately needed. It is time all people take action to reduce their high carbon footprint, and come together in an intelligent way by opting for sustainable technologies that can benefit the entire world. See easy steps on how you can begin here.
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