East Antarctica Could Succumb to Global Warming: It Would Be Unstoppable

AntarcticaA new study has released findings that show that the area of East Antarctica could succumb to the rising temperatures caused by global warming, leading to a level of destruction on a global scale that once begun would be unstoppable. The study says that if the ice breaks off from the continent, sea levels could rise as much as 53 meters.

The new study appears in the Nature Climate Change journal, and was written by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Matthias Mengel, the lead author on the project, has described the area of Wilkes Basin, which is situated in East Antarctica, as comparable to “a bottle on a slant.” Once the slab of ice on the coastal edge melts then, like a plug coming out of a bottle, the basin will slowly drain into the ocean. When that happens, the damage will be done: the cork cannot go back in.

The area of East Antarctica has always been considered more stable than its Western counterpart, but the study has found that this is not the case. While sea levels will rise gradually, the change over time will be noticed by anyone who lives in a coastal region. It is there that the rising tides will affect the lives of the inhabitants the most. In addition, any country situated below sea level, such as the Netherlands, could  quickly feel the impact of rising oceans. Once the water gets in it will not be leaving any time soon.

Even if global warming is halted, once the plug of ice melts the water will succumb to gravity and it would be unstoppable, despite all efforts. The Wilkes Basin is situated below sea level, and it alone holds enough ice to increase sea levels by 3-4 meters. The sheets of ice in East Antarctica are constantly in flux. Ice is added on the landward side and slowly melts on the sea-side. But currently this process remains balanced, and thus the total mass is relatively stable and unchanging from year to year.

Mengal and his team created a simulation that looked at what would happen if there was an imbalance created by rising temperatures. They specifically wanted to see  what the results would be if there was ice flowing out to the sea but little forming on the land side. They saw how the ice would act as a plug, but would gradually weaken until it could contain the basin no longer.

While the researchers have said that the process could take millions of years and slightly warmer seas, it shows where the Earth is heading if the situation regarding global warming is not turned around. Unfortunately this means that deniers of climate change will be waiting a long time on the shore before they can say “I told you so” and are swept away by rising tides.

It is important to look at what damage has already been done. The very clue to the problem is in the name: global warming. Perhaps the pollution that is sent up to our atmosphere is not converging over Europe or the U.S, but anyone in Australia or New Zealand knows the effect that air pollution has had.  Up until the 1970s aerosols that used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) worsened the already high levels of ultraviolet rays in Australia. These CFCs caused a huge hole in the ozone layer in that region. For years Australia and New Zealand have had the highest rates of melanoma and other skin cancers, and skin burn times can range from a half hour to just 15 minutes. The world-wide ban on CFCs has allowed the ozone hole to recover somewhat, but it is still an ongoing problem.

Earlier this week Neil deGrasse Tyson took a side in the debate on climate change. His perspective is that when the dinosaurs were wiped out, they never saw the asteroid coming. We can see the dangers looming around the world, so what is our excuse for not following the warnings?

Thus the importance of the study may not affect those who live in landlocked countries or central states, but it does have an effect on the world globally. The warming of the seas by a small degree could start off a chain of events in areas like East Antarctica that would become unstoppable. As such, is it really worth waiting for the area to succumb to global warming forces that are within our grasp?

Opinion by Sara Watson


National Geographic

You must be logged in to post a comment Login