Climate chase, exacerbated by human activity, is melting the ice caps, and scientists have discovered that if just the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, sea levels could rise by three metres. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest ice repository in the world, but as sea levels warm, the sheet is slowly falling away.
By analysing the shallow ice in the West Antarctica region, scientists have revealed an unnerving glimpse into Earth’s history.
During the Last Interglacial period – between 129,000 and 116,000 years ago – temperatures in the ocean around the West Antarctic rose by just 2C.
However, this small rise was enough to melt away the ice sheet, leading to a global sea level rise of three metres.
Now, experts are warning that ocean temperatures are well on their way to 2C, which could be catastrophic for Earth.
The planet has already seen an increase of 1C compared to pre-industrial levels which will contribute massively to the melting of the ice caps and subsequent sea level rise.
Chris Fogwill, professor of glaciology and palaeoclimatology at Keele University, Chris Turney, professor of Earth Science and Climate Change and Zoë Thomas, both from the University of New South Wales, have stated we are well on our way to a 2C rise, which could spell the end for major cities.
The trio wrote in an article for The Conversation: “We found that the mass melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was a major cause of high sea levels during a period known as the Last Interglacial (129,000-116,000 years ago).
“The extreme ice loss caused more than three metres of average global sea level rise – and worryingly, it took less than 2C of ocean warming for it to occur.
“We think it’s likely this melting started well before the ocean warmed by 2C. This is concerning to us today, as ocean temperatures continue to increase, and the West Antarctic is already melting.
“At the moment, research suggests that global sea levels could rise between 45 to 82cm over the next century.
“However, it’s thought that Antarctica will only contribute around 5cm of this – most of this sea level rise will be caused by warmer ocean waters and the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
“But based on our findings, Antarctica’s contribution could be much greater than anticipated.”
Climate models have shown that a sea level rise of more than three metres could permanently submerge large parts of the British coastline with the likes of Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of East London and the Thames Estuary all under threat.
A three metre sea level rise would also partially submerge Amsterdam New York, Miami, Guangzhou and Tokyo.