Is Antarctica melting? Yes, and in fact, it is melting at a higher rate than other masses of ice around the world. Antarctica has been around for fifteen million years, but if humans do not stop burning fossil fuels, the continent could disappear for good.
If all the fossil fuels stored within the Earth are burned, the Arctic will melt entirely. It may never happen and it won’t happen for awhile if it does, but researchers now know that it is, in fact, a possibility.
Scientists have long wondered whether it is possible for human activity to completely melt the Arctic. For 35 years, the problem has gone unsolved, but it finally has an answer. Using sophisticated computer models that simulate ice sheet melting, researchers from Stanford University’s Carnegie Institute of Science determined that if Antarctica melted, the worldwide sea level would gain 100 feet.
Lead author of the study, Ricarda Winkelmann, explains that once the Antarctica is gone, it causes other ice patches to melt more quickly, too. Water has a higher heat capacity than air and can store heat longer, so releasing newly-melted, relatively warm water into the ocean will start a positive feedback loop. Winkelmann explains that the warm water will melt ice from the bottom up.
Of course, the question really is, what is the likelihood that humanity will manage to get through all the fossil fuels contained in the Earth? In the model, it only took 500 years, but it was difficult to find details about how they reached that number. With the increased awareness around the dangers associated with rampant climate change, it seems unlikely that we will reach this critical point before finding a way to turn it around.
Do you think we’ll lose Antarctica? Let me know in the comments!
Image (c) NASA