by Robert Wilkinson
For some time now, we have known that “some of the most vulnerable ice sheets are in the West Antarctic. In 1998, Nature published an article warning that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet “poses the most immediate threat of a large sea-level rise, owing to its potential instability.” Well, not only has the West Antarctica melt accelerated, but now it turns out East Antarctica is also at risk for melting and contributing many meters to rising sea levels!
From the WaPo article by Terrence McCoy titled East Antarctica significantly more at risk of melting than earlier thought we read that
“… just last month, more bad news hit: The West Antarctic is shedding ice at a faster rate than ever, with six regional glaciers disgorging roughly as much ice as the entire Greenland ice sheet.
Now comes the news that the West Antarctic isn’t the only concern. In fact, it may not even be the biggest one.
In the much larger East Antarctica, where melting has the potential to raise sea level by 53 meters (174 feet), there’s a small ice volume called the Wilkes Basin. It carries significance well beyond its size. According to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change, if it melts, it would trigger an “irreversible discharge” of the entire basin, causing an unstoppable sea level rise of up to 4 meters. “East Antarctica may become a large contributor to future sea-level rise on timescales beyond a century,” the study says.
“East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant,” lead author Matthias Mengel said.“Once uncorked, it empties out.”
The most jarring conclusion? Once the ice begins its flow out of the broken “ice cork,” there’s no stopping it.
The hopeful news is that
Indeed, the process, though significant, appears to be slow. The study found that it may take as many as 200 years for the cork to melt. And after it goes, it will take another several thousand years for the basin to empty into the sea.
Still, with many of the world’s most populous cities — Mumbai, Tokyo, New York — near the ocean, every inch in sea rise counts.
“Once started, it becomes unstoppable,” Levermann said. “At the moment it’s still stable but if it melts then the ice plug alone will result in a global sea-level rise of between 5 and 8 centimeters, but the ice that it will release is going to cause 80 times that amount of sea-level rise.”
So this probably won’t affect us directly, but it certainly seems that it will impact the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Everything we do now will impact the future in significant ways. Doing nothing is not an option.
And of course, the Arctic Sea ice continues to shrink, and Greenland’s ice melt continues to accelerate by inches each year. At least our “leaders” have begun to acknowledge the problem, and now must find a way to persuade the greedheads that we really do need to slow global warming down as many ways as we can. That means decreasing the burning of fossil fuels, and embracing clean energy sources.
Copyright © 2014 Robert Wilkinson