May 23, 2014

"Pretty much the dumbest thing you could possibly do is melt your planet's ice sheets."

Mother Jones "Glaciologist Richard Alley explains that losing West Antarctica would produce 10 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries. That's comparable to the flooding from Sandy—but permanent." by Chris Mooney

'Last year, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a high-end estimate for global sea level rise of about three feet by the year 2100. Is that still valid? Given how long it takes to drain West Antarctica, maybe so. But maybe not. The latest research, Alley points out, "did not run the worst-case scenario."

'Either way, three feet by 2100 is hardly any consolation to those humans, our grandchildren or great-grandchildren, who will be living in the 22nd century. If it hasn't already collapsed by then, West Antarctica will be coming for them. And what does that mean?

'As of now, coastal counties are home to 39 percent of the US population and generate nearly half of our GDP, according to the National Academy of Sciences. In other words, they are absolutely fundamental to our country and economy. But the collapse of West Antarctica basically means that in the future, all of these coastal regions—and all of the coastal regions everywhere else in the world—will be subjected to ocean conditions similar to a permanent Superstorm Sandy.

'"The highest storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy, was just under 13 feet, and a whole lot of places it was 10 feet or less," explains Alley. "And we're looking at 11 feet, or something like that, from West Antarctica. Plus a little thermal expansion [water expanding as it gets warmer] and some mountain glacier melting that are already on the table. And so you can sort of think of the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, something vaguely in that neighborhood for most of the coastline of the world."'

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