Climatic changes appear to be destabilizing vast ice sheets of western Antarctica that had previously seemed relatively protected from global warming, researchers reported yesterday, raising the prospect of faster sea-level rise than current estimates.
While the overall loss is a tiny fraction of the miles-deep ice that covers much of Antarctica, scientists said the new finding is important because the continent holds about 90 percent of Earth’s ice, and until now, large-scale ice loss there had been limited to the peninsula that juts out toward the tip of South America. In addition, researchers found that the rate of ice loss in the affected areas has accelerated over the past 10 years — as it has on most glaciers and ice sheets around the world.
"Something must be changing the ocean to trigger such changes," said Rignot, a senior scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We believe it is related to global climate forcing."
Even Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth, was concerned only about the ice shelfs on that (relatively) small peninsula in the West.
But if we’re talking about melting extending to the whole western half of the continent — well, that doesn’t bode well for sea levels. Coupled with the well-documented melting of Greenland, we are facing this scenario:
Of course, a rise of 20 meters (as depicted above) is not a sure thing — certainly not in most of our lifetimes; it would take significant melting for that to occur. But even then, a sea level rise of less than a meter, certainly possible within currrent trends and predictions for this century, is certainly nothing to ignore. Here’s Manhattan enjoying a mere 0.7 meter rise in sea level.
Can’t happen, you say? Guess what? It already is happening.