Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In The News: Earth with no ice?

A recently-released interactive map on the National Geographic website has been receiving a great deal of attention in social media in the past few days.  Entitled "If All the Ice Melted"  these maps are a sobering picture of a planet Earth where all of the glaciers and ice sheets have melted, resulting in a sea level rise of 216 feet that dramatically alters the world we know now. 

But don't reach for that flotation device just yet! According to National Geographic, scientists estimate that it would take 5,000 years for all of the Earth's five million cubic miles of ice to melt and drain into the sea.  Even if humans are still around thousands of years from now to see this happen, the rising sea level will likely not be the worst of our problems... along with a planet bereft of ice, scientists also estimate that we'll be dealing with an average global temperature of 80 degrees F, instead of the current 58 degrees F. Between rising sea levels and high temperatures, much of earth will become uninhabitable for humans.

Here's a look at the new coastline of North America in an ice-free world:

As you can see, the entire East coast is now underwater, and we've completely lost Florida.  New inland seas now cover Louisiana and parts of California and Alaska.  But there is good news for the West coast: aside from parts of California, we appear to survive the sea level rise relatively unscathed! Be sure to take a look at the other maps on the National Geographic website.  The devastation to Asia and Europe is especially profound.

One factor not mentioned in regard to these maps is the effect of CO2 emissions and climate change.  It would be interesting to find out if the 5,000 year estimate for melting all of earth's ice is based on current climate and CO2 emissions trends.  If CO2 emissions increase or decrease, how will that change the ice-free timeline and projected average temperature? 

Although we're unlikely to see an ice-free Earth anytime soon, we are still facing rising sea levels as a result of climate change.  Glaciers and ice sheets are melting at alarming (and accelerating) rates, and sea levels are expected to rise as much as a few feet by the end of this century.  With 600 million people and two-thirds of the worlds' largest cities (greater than 5 million people) located in areas less than 10 meters above sea level, the implications of melting ice and rising tides could be very grave indeed.

For more information on reducing your impact on climate change and sea level rise, be sure to check out the Going Green page on this blog!

No comments:

Post a Comment