According to a recent NASA study, climate change is showing its effects on the West Antarctic ice sheet, and it won’t stop.
Watching the West Antarctic ice sheet disappear won’t be something worth a month-long trip, but perhaps take a couple hundred years. Even watching the annual ice breakup is a few weeks, but the problem on the West Antarctic ice sheet is that it is building up less every year. Climate change, leading to warmer ocean temperatures, is also halting the growth of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It’s gotten so bad that scientists estimate that it will continue to recede, calling it a collapse, which will lead to rising sea levels.
Scientists have been studying a number of glaciers that feed the West Antarctic ice sheet, such as the Thwaites Glacier, whose collapse is estimated will trigger a four-foot rise in sea levels. The problem is, however, that the Thwaites Glacier is so interconnected with other glaciers in the area that its own collapse would trigger the collapse of all the others. The West Antarctic ice sheet maybe take another century to recede all the way to the continent but, by the time it does, sea levels could rise by up to twelve feet.
Just to note, twelve feet of sea level rise due to climate change and pole-ice melting would flood coastal cities, such as New York City, which would be 22% under water, and Miami, which would be 73% flooded. New Orleans was all but disappear, 98% of be being flooded.
Calling it a “collapse” may seem to indicate a sudden retreat, but we have to keep in mind that climate change is a centuries-long event, and we’re really just in the beginning of it. The point is that the West Antarctic ice sheet won’t stop melting anytime soon, and there’s nothing that we can do about it now. We had that chance at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but we didn’t know we had it.
Image © NASA