Antarctic Ice Sheet Melting Rapidly, Could Put New York And Miami Underwater

The Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing at an unstoppable pace, leading to what scientists believe will be a devastating rise in sea level that could put hundreds of cities underwater and endanger millions of lives.

Two separate groups of researchers discovered that ice in western Antarctica is melting rapidly, much faster than previous projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Though the Antarctic ice sheet would still take centuries to fully melt, the full effects could be catastrophic.

“This retreat will have major consequences for sea level rise worldwide,”said Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at the University of California Irvine. “It will raise sea level by 1.2 meters or four feet.”

Rignot’s research team used radar data from two European Earth Remote Sensing satellites, while a separate research team led by Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, studied radar maps of Antarctica taken from an aerial NASA survey called Operation IceBridge.

Climate change scientists had long known that the ice covering Antarctica was melting, but the studies this week showed a much faster rate than most had projected.

The researchers believe the Antarctic ice sheet will not show any dramatic movement for several years, but then move into a rapid melting phase.”All of our simulations show it will retreat at less than a millimeter of sea level rise per year for a couple of hundred years, and then, boom, it just starts to really go,” Joughin said.

Both groups agreed that the melting of the ice sheet was the result of human-driven climate change.

They also posted dire warnings about what could happen if the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt at the rate it’s being projected. The rising sea level would drown out coastal areas, sinking cities like New York, New Orleans, and Miami.

[Photo via NASA]