Scientists just revealed how fast Antarctica’s ice melted over the last years. Since 1992, it lost 3 trillion tons of ice, losing some of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Antarctic Peninsula.
That exact location matters, as the communities living on the U.S. coastline will see the sea levels rise, according to climate scientists.
Boston, for example, would see an increase in sea level of 1.25 cm for every 1 cm of sea level rise from the ice melting in West Antarctica.
A climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Rob DeConto, stated that Earth has a way of responding to the rise of sea level:
“The Earth’s gravitational field changes because we’re redistributing mass around the planet.”
As the ice sheet loses ice, its gravitational pull is reduced, so the local sea level near Antarctica is diminished. DeConto says that, for example, if the whole Greenland Ice Sheet would melt, northern Europe and northeastern North America wouldn’t notice a change:
“If you’re close to the ice sheet that’s losing mass you don’t really feel the effects as much. It’s totally flipped upside down for Antarctica. Sea level rise for the future, it’s not happening at the same rate in every part of the world… this gravity thing has a big impact.”
Antarctica’s loss of mass impacts very little the axis of rotation of our planet, making sea level rise unequally distributed over the globe.
De Conto and other researchers projected some worst-case scenarios in their studies to see what happens if the Antarctic ice continues to melt.
What if ice in Antarctica melts through 2070?
The scenario involves global warming, with the temperature rising over the limit – to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit). For this to happen, greenhouse gas emissions level will remain unchanged, and the ice shelves that keep the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in place will melt.
Sea level will rise to 5 mm in one year, and it will flood cities on the coasts, causing economic losses of $1 trillion per year.
Climate scientist Richard Alley (Penn State University) said that this is a serious matter, and this is not the worst-case scenario. He thinks this is a most likely scenario, considering recent gas emissions trends:
“Considering sea level rise, for example, the future rise could be a little smaller or a little larger, or a lot larger — there is a “long tail” on the “bad” side.”
It’s Not Too Late
DeConto thinks we still have time to act:
“It’s not like it’s completely too late and there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s not true.”
Helen Amanda Fricker is a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and believes the same thing:
“The next few years will be a pivotal period for decision making with regard to Antarctica. Depending on what is decided, we could be looking at significant and irreversible changes over the next 50 years.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.