Warming temperatures around the planet is expected to cause glaciers to melt more rapidly, adding extra water to the ocean, raising the sea level. The question has been how much the sea level will rise. Will it be a foot or two, or will it be twenty feet. For those of us who live near sea level this is an important question, especially given the amount of critical infrastructure that’s been built at sea level. Airports, bridges, ports, cities, etc.
The glaciers in West Antarctica are particularly concerning because of their size, and recognition by scientists for decades that they’re “unstable.” Today, studies were released saying it’s inevitable those glaciers will collapse into the ocean. The collapse is already underway, and cannot be stopped.
These glaciers end up at the sea shore in a depression that goes below sea level. Scientists recently determined the ocean end of these glaciers are now floating in the water, a condition which makes the collapse inevitable.
The rate of the collapse is “limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow,” according to Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research.
Scientists have used satellite and air measurements to document an accelerating retreat over the past several decades of six glaciers draining into the Amundsen Sea region.
The significance of this threat is that these glaciers, by themselves, could raise sea levels by four feet.
Four feet – just from one small subset of glaciers on Antarctica.
The IPCC reports on climate change project sea level rise between 1-3 feet by 2100.
This tells me that we need to plan for quite a bit of sea level rise. This won’t be a piddly little two feet of sea level rise that can be accommodated by a simple sea wall.
If you live at sea level, is your local government thinking about sea level rise? Are they connecting the dots between greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and the expense they’re paying to build sea walls? Those of you with a beach house should move it inland, because it will be washed away.
The glaciers in the Admundsen Sea region are only a small portion of the glaciers in West Antarctica. According to NASA’s scientists, if all the West Antarctica glaciers melted completely, global sea level would rise by about 16 feet (5 meters).
The good thing to know is that this process will take awhile – decades – to unfold. The bad news is that because it happens so slowly the danger won’t be recognized until it’s too late. That’s the problem with the whole climate change story – the process of change is fairly slow, taking decades to unfold, and it’s not the sort of threat our bodies evolved to recognize. It’s easy to recognize threats like a lion or bear charging us from the forest. Even if we recognize a threats that takes decades to unfold, that just evokes the “manana” reflex (I’ll take care of it tomorrow).
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