Antarctic ice melting faster than expected Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Antarctic ice melting faster than expected
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Warmer air, less frigid water and gravity may combine to make parts of Antarctica's western ice sheet melt far faster than scientists had thought. Sea levels could rise much more than expected. It could happen by the end of the century. This is according to a study.
 
New physics-based computer simulations forecast dramatic increases in melting. The increases come in the vulnerable western edge of the continent. In a worst-case scenario, that could raise sea level in 2100 by 18 to 34 inches more than an international panel of climate scientists predicted. They made that prediction just three years ago.
 
And even if the countries of the world control heat-trapping gases at the moderate levels they pledged last year, it would still mean three to 12 inches higher seas than have been forecast. This is according to a study. It was published March 30 in the journal Nature.
 
By the year 2500, in the worst-case scenario, the simulations predict seas 42 feet higher. The increase would come purely from Antarctic melt.
 
"You're remapping the way the planet looks from space with those numbers," said study lead author Robert DeConto. He is a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts.
 
This is all because Antarctica is one of the biggest wild cards when scientists try to assess the effects of man-made climate change. Scientists were caught by surprise when the western portion of the continent started showing signs of rapid ice loss in the last 10 years or so.
 
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not forecast much sea level rise from Antarctica. Its last report predicted just seven inches by 2100. For this century, the panel saw water expanding from heat, glacier melt and Greenland ice sheet loss as the bigger factors.
 
Instead of 7 inches, DeConto's simulations forecast dramatically higher levels. His estimates from Antarctica's melt alone could be 2 to 3 feet. That is the worst-case scenario. The estimate is 10 to 19 inches if greenhouse gas emissions are moderately controlled. And if the world cracks down more dramatically on heat-trapping gases, Antarctica would essentially not add anything to sea level rise, the study said.
 
Those figures are just worldwide averages. In many places on the East Coast, like Boston, it could be 25 percent more. That's because of geological conditions, DeConto said.
 
"North America has a lot to fear from ice loss from West Antarctica." That is where it all begins, DeConto said.
 
While other studies have looked at the effect of warming from water below ice sheets and the air that melts from above, DeConto adds in the effect of pooling water and giant ice cliffs. Those ice cliffs, which can be dozens and even hundreds of feet high, can then collapse from the sheer weight of ice. That hastens glacier and ice sheet retreat, he said.
 
Ted Scambos at the University of Colorado, who wasn't part of the new study, said it was plausible and used "a few simple yet under-appreciated factors regarding ice retreat."
 
Carnegie Institute climate scientist Chris Field said the study drives home the difference the world can make by controlling its greenhouse gas emissions. It's the difference between rising seas that can be managed and conditions that are "dangerously risky," he said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Antarctica “one of the biggest wildcards?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (24)
  • brandonb4461-
    4/12/2016 - 12:38 p.m.

    This is really interesting! I did a project on the arctic and didn't hear about this!

  • madisonw1-rob
    4/12/2016 - 01:42 p.m.

    Just imagine having your home, dreamland, etc melt away. This story is a little sad. Ice is out there melting and we are the cause of it.

  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    4/12/2016 - 09:40 p.m.

    I think that it is really bad how we are creating things that are harming the environment and the people are just standing there not doing anything. I think that it is a very bad influence for our kids and that it will change the fact that they are not going to help the environment, until someone out there is going to tell them that they need to help our world.

  • christianr-4-bar
    4/13/2016 - 11:47 a.m.

    When the scientists try to assess the effects of man-made climate change.They try to assess because it is one of the biggest wildcards meaning that ice can be gone in a rapid amount of time.Scientists were surprise when the western portion of the continent is showing signs of the rapid ice loss in the last 10 years. This seems scary that water can go up because than it can soon flood cities next to the beaches.

  • carlym-4-bar
    4/13/2016 - 07:05 p.m.

    Antarctica is "one of the biggest wildcards" because sometimes there is no ice loss and then other times there is a huge ice loss. The changes are even. "This is all because Antarctica is one of the biggest wild cards when scientists try to assess the effects of man-made climate change. Scientists were caught by surprise when the western portion of the continent started showing signs of rapid ice loss in the last 10 years or so."
    I found this article interesting because I didn't know that Antarctica was going to loose that much ice in that short of time.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    4/13/2016 - 07:19 p.m.

    Antarctica, as stated by the writing, is a massive continent containing ice sheets and glaciers, which are susceptible to climate change. The melting of these formations would affect climate and life globally, raising sea levels and spreading diseases. As a result of the vulnerability and importance of Antarctica, it is imperative that the continent is monitored
    closely to watch for changes and trends. The article is a description of yet another major issue that affects everyone and everything living on Earth. For such reasons, it is a large topic for debate and study by nearly all countries. The facts presented were alarming and intriguing, and as awareness is spread of these dangers, the world can take steps to prevent further weakening of the environment.

  • mayaw-6-bar
    4/13/2016 - 08:16 p.m.

    Antarctica is, "one of the biggest wildcards," because if Antarctica melts the rise in sea levels would be even more drastic then expected, and if Antarctica doesn't melt then the rise in sea level would be as expected. This what-if situation makes Antarctica a huge wildcard. In paragraph 8, it states that, "Instead of 7 inches (this is the expected amount of rise in sea level by 2100), DeConto's simulations forecast dramatically higher levels. His estimates from Antarctica's melt alone could be 2 to 3 feet. That is the worst-case scenario. The estimate is 10 to 19 inches if greenhouse gas emissions are moderately controlled. And if the world cracks down more dramatically on heat-trapping gases, Antarctica would essentially not add anything to sea level rise, the study said." This quote is basically saying that, if Antarctica melts, then anywhere from an extra 10 to an extra 36 inches of water would cause sea levels would rise, this makes Antarctica a wildcard. Therefore, Antarctica is, "one of the biggest wildcards," because if Antarctica melts the rise in sea levels would be even more drastic then expected, and if Antarctica doesn't melt then the rise in sea level would be as expected. I liked this article, because I was unaware of the fact that scientists were excluding Antarctica from the expected rise in sea levels, so I learned something new.

  • ryanh-ver
    4/14/2016 - 01:06 p.m.

    If something like this does become true is it possible for so states/continents to be destroyed?

  • connorc-ver
    4/14/2016 - 01:11 p.m.

    It is one of the biggest landmasses on Earth, and it's melting fast.

  • jaylynnj-Orv
    4/14/2016 - 03:40 p.m.

    It's very sad that even though people have been warning us to fix this, no one has. People need to take action and change this, or else we are all doomed.

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