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Antarctica Could be Headed for Major Meltdown

David Colgan - UCLA Newsroom
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February 23, 2016
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Antarctica, Secrets Beneath the Ice (Nova/Seosan TV)

Antarctica’s glaciers are the size of the United States and Mexico combined, and they contain enough water to raise the world’s sea level by 180 feet.

In the early Miocene Epoch, temperatures were 10 degrees warmer and ocean levels were 50 feet higher — well above the ground level of modern-day New York, Tokyo and Berlin. It was more than 16 million years ago, so times were different. But there was one important similarity with the world we live in today: The air contained about the same amount of carbon dioxide. That parallel raises serious concerns about the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All told, Antarctica’s glaciers are the size of the United States and Mexico combined, and they contain enough water to raise the world’s sea level by 180 feet. And although no humans live permanently in Antarctica, what happens there impacts everyone, said Aradhna Tripati, a geochemist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who collaborated on the research.

“The ice sheets serve as huge stores of water,” Tripati said. “As the ice melts, it gets dumped in the ocean and the sea level rises.”

The study is the latest revelation of ANDRILL, a $20 million research project focused on the South Pole. The effort, now 12 years old, has involved 100 researchers from seven countries. ANDRILL researchers were the first to bore holes through Antarctic ice shelves and sea ice to sample the ocean floor below.

Previous research showed that ice shelves — the parts of the ice sheets that extend over water — are vulnerable to even small increases in greenhouse gases. But the new study, which was written by Richard Levy of GNS Science, a New Zealand research organization, was the first to demonstrate that the huge, land-based glaciers are also vulnerable.

Read the rest at UCLA Newsroom

Related: Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries (The New York Times)

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