The (West Antarctic Ice) Sheet Has Hit The Fan
Well, now we’ve done it.
This week, two scientific teams reported that the collapse and melt of large portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet now appears unstoppable. As in irreversible, inevitable, and more than partially our fault. There’s enough water in the unstable ice sheet to raise global sea levels by four feet on its own, and combined with other sources of melt, this could raise sea levels as much as ten feet over the next few centuries.
I’ll give you a moment, in case that didn’t sink in.
As Chris Mooney writes at Mother Jones, “This is what a holy shit moment for global warming looks like.”
The acceleration of the ice sheet’s melting is due to warming ocean currents, destabilizing the ice from beneath and speeding up its collapse. Because of the particular geography of the region, this rapid chain reaction of melting can not be stopped. If greenhouse gas levels continue to rise, this melting will only speed up.
If there’s any silver lining to this news, it’s that it’s not clear how fast this will happen. Ice sheets move slowly (being made of ice and all), so the melt could play out over hundreds of years. Still, it’s the clearest sign yet that we have irreversibly affected the global climate, and we must do something.
Every day that we spend faux-debating the validity of climate change science is another day closer to an inevitably wet future. Would you rather build a boat or tread water?
PS - The image up top shows what Times Square would look like with 6 feet or so of sea level rise. Just so you know what to expect. Check out more at worldunderwater.org