Written by Cove Johnson Rabidoux
On October 23rd, new research was published that stated how rapid melting of Antarctica (specifically West Antarctica) is unavoidable. The research informed us that no matter how much carbon emissions we cut or the number of greenhouse gasses we decrease, the extreme rate at which the ice is melting in West Antarctica is inevitable. Dr Kaitlin Naughten, at the British Antarctic Survey, who led the research team said, “Our study is not great news – we may have lost control of west Antarctic ice shelf melting over the 21st century. It is one impact of climate change that we are probably just going to have to adapt to, and very likely this means some coastal communities will either have to build [defenses] or be abandoned.”
All of this ice melting would have horrendous effects on sea levels and coastal communities. It’s believed that if all of the ice in West Antarctica were to melt, it could cause global sea levels to rise by up to 3.3 meters. This would have a devastating effect on coastal communities all over the world, especially those located in lower-lying areas. For example, 10 feet of sea level rise would submerge major US cities including Miami, Orlando, and Baton Rouge. Furthermore, the destruction of these coastal cities would lead to the displacement of millions of people, the loss of billions of dollars, and the destruction of unique ecosystems that have been preserved for centuries.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that much of the ice in West Antarctica is located on land that is below sea level. This means that this ice is particularly vulnerable to the warming temperatures of the ocean, and as the ocean warms it causes the ice to melt at an extremely accelerated rate. This phenomenon is known as the “marine ice sheet instability” and has become even worse in the last few years because it is occurring in West Antarctica at this very moment.
The new research also suggested that the melting of West Antarctica is irreversible. This means that the process has already been set in motion and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The research reinforces the need for urgent action to be taken to reduce global carbon emissions and to limit the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Taking these steps would help to slow down the rate of global warming, and the melting of Antarctica, plus give coastal cities and communities more needed time to prepare for the effects of the melting ice.