Scientists: Too late to stop Antarctic ice melt

Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

In 1978, John Mercer at Ohio State University warned that rapid release of greenhouse gases posed the threat of disaster. He was right.

A group of scientists reported today that it’s too late to stop the collapse of the ice sheet in West Antarctica, the New York Times reports.

The finding means that a four-foot rise in global sea level is now inevitable, although it may take a century, the groups says, but after that it will speed up sharply. Business Insider reports it may take 200 years before the last of the ice is gone.

The scientists noted that the problem isn’t the temperature of the air, which is how many people view climate change and a warming planet, it’s the temperature of the water.

There is still dispute about whether it’s a man-made problem — it could be the ozone hole over Antarctica, they said. But at this point, it’s beside the fact. It can’t be stopped. If the entire ice sheet of Antarctica melts, seas will rise 11 feet.

We thought the system “was stabilized for a few thousand years,” Ian Joughin, a scientist who studies the physics of glaciers at the University of Washington, Seattle, and who is the lead author of the study, published in the journal Science, National Geographic reported.

What would a two-foot rise in oceans do? According to Business Insider, most of Florida south of Miami, about 5 million people, could be uninhabitable.

Related: The 'Unstable' West Antarctic Ice Sheet: A Primer (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

  • Dave

    It makes me wonder what sort of rate of change would be required for the non-believers to see the light? 11 feet of water in a week? Right now we’re boiling frogs.

  • Don’t tell James Fallows, Starquest used the boiled frog story. :*) http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2006/09/the-boiled-frog-myth-stop-the-lying-now/7446/

  • MrE85

    I blame ethanol. I was born in a coastal city in Florida (Melbourne). Looks like after I’m gone, it will go, too.

  • bnelson333

    What I don’t understand is how the folks who are apt to easily take Pascal’s wager on religion are the same ones who refuse to take the same wager on climate change. Actually I do understand, but I’ll keep my snark to myself.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Call me when the Earth stops changing. Then I’ll be scared.

    • Chris

      It is the rapidly increasing rate of change that is the issue. What is so hard about that to understand? When change happens at a usually slow rate, plants and animals can adapt. But when you spend 150 years burning huge amounts of carbon, things change faster and in unpredictable ways. What is so hard about that to understand?

  • Duke Powell

    I am a climate change denier and predict that this story is complete and utter nonsense.

    Complete silliness.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        I like how “believing in science” has now been defined down to whether or not you support a certain level of government intervention in this and only this issue occurring in an infintesimally small sliver of Earth’s history. Support it and you’re intelligent, oppose it and you’re a dunderhead deserving of only ridicule.

        As a spinster myself, I’m in awe…as I sit here denying science on my computer watching compressed video being delivered over twisted cables to the other monitor connected to my computer, both of which hundreds of miles away from the video’s physical location. It is truly masterful framing.

        • Pretty sure neither of the reports today, though, deals with any levels of government involvement, nor even — other than as mentioned — a cause of a warming planet. The reports, as presented, merely seem to say on this matter, “there’s nothing you can do.” Which seems to make the rest of the usual debate academic. Still there’s a debate, though, about how long the process will take. Safe to say, I’ll be dead. So will you. Good luck to the future.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            True. But try finding someone adamant about global warming who isn’t pushing government action along with it, as if the 6 billion of us aren’t supposed to impact the planet or can preserve it just like this forever.

            As I like to say, the sun is going to explode and consume the planet regardless of the car you drive. (I’m a cheerful person)

          • tboom

            I don’t think anyone says we can preserve it forever with a population of 6 billion, but there’s a heck of a lot we could be doing to minimize the negative effects, both short and long term. The future is going to look at us and wonder what we were thinking, living in our own filth like this.

            The future is going to have some tough questions to answer beyond sustainability. If you think the so called climate debate is divisive, wait until we get to the “how big a human population can Earth support?” debate.

      • Do owls exist?

  • Gerald

    The last year the globe warmed was 17 years ago. The Antarctic ice sheet is now the largest area of frozen ocean in the history of records keeping. Global warming field surveys have been rescued from the ice pack twice in the last couple of years. They were frozen in. We just had a record winter. Last summer was unseasonably cool until after the first of July. In 1976 the scientists predicted global cooling to the point of wanting to create carbon dioxide plants to turn it around. Weather forecasters are only right about half the time. Wake the hell up to reality people. 1 Volcano has more affect than ALL pollution produced in the history of man. And hundreds are erupting every day worldwide. Don’t let the government blame the people and make us pay reparations till the collapse of our civilization. Oh and too much ice causes polar bears to starve you know. We need to save the POLAR BEARS! And please, before saying i’m full of anything, please do some real research. Don’t quote your favorite academic please.