If the rapid ice melt in Antarctica is any indication, we’re in deep trouble.
According to NASA, the complete melting of a major section of west Antarctica’s ice sheets is unstoppable and could lead to higher end-of-century global sea levels than previously anticipated.
Higher sea levels mean coastal cities are in for some serious flooding. And one NASA glaciologist frighteningly suggests we’re past “the point of no return.”
Warm ocean currents and geographic peculiarities helped kick off a chain reaction at the Amundsen Sea-area glaciers, melting them faster than previously realized and pushing them “past the point of no return,” NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot told reporters by phone Monday.
The glacial retreat there “appears unstoppable,” said Rignot, lead author of a joint NASA-University of California Irvine paper that used 40 years of satellite data and aircraft studies.
The melting is sure to have an impact on this century, according to Sridhar Anandakrishnan, geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University.
The United Nations’ most recent climate change report estimates sea levels could rise from about 1 foot to 3 feet by 2100, levels that could displace tens of millions of people from coastal areas around the world.
Yet that estimate largely didn’t take into account melting from west Antarctica, because few studies for that area had been completed, Anandakrishnan said.
“So as this paper and others come out, the (U.N.) numbers for 2100 will almost certainly” lean closer to 3 feet, he said.
The findings don’t clash with news that Antarctic sea ice recently hit record levels, Rignot and Anandakrishnan said. They said sea ice forms and melts quickly, while glaciers are subject to longer-term changes. And the same winds that stir subsurface heat toward the base of Antarctic ice shelf also can expand sea ice cover, Rignot said.
But what does that mean for us? According to Mashable:
Over the long-term, melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could yield as much as 10 to 14 feet of global average sea level rise, with local sea level rise varying considerably depending on land elevation trends, ocean currents and other factors.
With the caveat that this much global average sea level rise is almost certainly not going to occur during the next several decades, here is what New York City would look like with a 10-foot increase in the local sea level, with blue areas showing areas that would be inundated (many more areas would be flooded during a storm event). The map below shows that much of Lower Manhattan would be under water, including the base of the new Freedom Tower, along with pricey real estate in Brooklyn and the East Village. These projections are screenshots from Climate Central’s Surging Seas sea level rise tool, which is based on peer-reviewed research.
But most of Florida may be the hardest hit from the sea-level increases.
A 10-foot increase in sea level would essentially render all of South Florida, from Naples on the west coast to Ft. Lauderdale in the east, under water. This includes almost all of Miami.
Looks like we have a watery future ahead of us. To find out more about Antarctica’s unstoppable glacier melting, watch the NASA video above.