×
Here's how damaging the melting of Antarctic ice will be toward global ocean sea levels.

Here's how damaging the melting of Antarctic ice will be toward global ocean sea levels.

Antarctica is melting much faster than expected, and the rise in sea level can reach catastrophic levels within a century.

Antarctica has a long and strange history, stretching back to the shared land of Pangea. Then, it was part of the supercontinent of Gondwana in the southern latitudes and had palm and baobab trees before continental drift started, moving the continent away from Gondwana at 1 to 2 inches a year before leaving it in its final resting place at the bottom of the planet. Now it's a 5.4 million square mile continent, bigger than Australia’s 2.9 million and Europe’s 3.9 million, and it's covered with an ice sheet 7,100 ft (1.3 miles) thick. It is otherwise indistinguishable from other continents; it has seasons and an ecosystem of penguins, seals, visiting whales, gulls, krill, albatross and more. People can't survive on it, but that's hardly a rubric for judging a place. 

But we are losing the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic at a less, ahem, glacial pace. If the continent of Antarctica was situated elsewhere, the ice would have already melted and filled the ocean, flooding our coastal towns. 

 

Glacier break                    

 

Time Magazine

 

 

Around 24 hours ago, a gigantic iceberg the size of London broke off from eastern Antarctica. The Australian Antarctic Division, which monitored the break, said that the iceberg measured 1,636 square kilometres in size, or about 50 x 30km. Ben Galton-Fenzi, a glaciologist with the Australian Antarctic Program, said the calving was detected through satellite imagery.

“The calving will not directly affect sea level, because the ice shelf was already floating, much like an ice cube in a glass of water,” he said.

“But what will be interesting to see is how the loss of this ice will influence the ocean melting under the remaining ice shelf and the speed at which the ice flows off the continent.”

 

Melting rates                   

 

An article published at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies laid out certain grim facts about the threat of the climate crisis. For a long time it was believed that East Antarctica, which had an average temperature of -67 degree Farenheit, would remain unaffected by climate change. But the rate it is disappearing at is alarming, accounting for 20% of the overall loss to the entire Antarctic content. 

The Antarctic contains about 90 percent of the planet’s ice, enough to raise global sea levels 200 feet.

Current scientific analysis places the melting, if left unchecked, will add something around a foot of water to the global sea level by 2100.

In 2002, a massive In the ensuing years, the Larsen B ice shelf famously collapsedoff the Antarctic Peninsula. The glaciers which had been held in place by the massive ice shelf, accelerated their slide to the sea by 5 to 8 times. Theoretically, if that happens continent-wide, points out Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, it would raise sea levels by 13 feet per century.

“You want to be scared by something?” says Rignot. “That’s the worst-case scenario. Antarctica can do that.”

 

Melting ice on the coast of Adélie Land in East Antarctica. REUTERS/PAULINE ASKIN                   

Recommended for you