What if the Ice Caps Melted?

NOAA

NOAA

The polar caps are melting, it’s been measured over the past decades. As the global temperature rises, we are slowly seeing the ice turn into water.

What has happened so far?
Well, based on actual measurements, the oceans have risen about seven inches over the past 100 years. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that some of the country’s biggest cities are sitting at or just a few feet above sea level. These include New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston and New Orleans. Some of New Orleans is actually as far as seven feet below sea level…

What would happen if all the ice melted into the oceans?
Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Sea levels are rising, this is a given, but how it happens is not cut and dry. Let’s break it down…

If the North Pole ice melted…
The implications would not be all that severe, believe it or not. Less than 10% of the World’s ice is located at the North Pole. The ice that is there is relatively thin, so it floats on top of the water. If the ice melted here, it would not change the water level. The ice is already displacing the ocean…think about putting an ice cube in a glass of water. Once the ice melts, the total amount of water does not change.

What about the South Pole?
Now we have a more serious situation. 90% of the World’s ice can be found across the South Pole. If all of that ice melted, we would have a catastrophic problem. Given the sheer volume of solid ice, the oceans would rise about 200 feet. This is HUGE, because it would wipe out all of the World’s coastlines and would also cause the water to go way inland. For example, most of Florida would be under water, we could basically say goodbye to Long Island, as well as Cape Cod and the Islands. Not to mention that every coastal city in the world would be mostly or entirely under water.

Is there any other ice to be concerned about?
Well, if all of the ice on Greenland melted, that would cause ocean levels to rise 20 feet. That scenario is more plausible, since Greenland is in a warmer environment than the South Pole, but it will take several hundred years for this to happen.

Don’t worry, be happy!
What? Well, the South Pole ice will have a very challenging time melting. In fact, the majority of Antarctica around the South Pole never gets above freezing. Could that change? Yes, but it would take a long time. Even if the temperatures rose above freezing, low temperatures would still stay well below zero a majority of the time.

What’s going to happen?
In our lifetimes, the oceans will likely continue to rise. Although they are getting higher, the rate is relatively slowly. Unless your house is literally on the ocean or you live on an isolated island, the change will be rather insignificant. Computer models estimate that ocean levels will rise about 20 inches between now and 2100. That’s a long way away and we have plenty of time to prepare. 20 inches may not be a lot on the big scheme of things, but that would put some metropolitan areas in danger of losing parts of their cities. Places like New York City along lower Manhattan, who are currently on dry land, would be under water by then.

Should we be concerned?
Absolutely. Although the change is slow, it is happening. Ice caps are melting and ocean levels are slowly melting. If the melting happened all at once, the consequences would be  extreme. On the bright side, we have plenty of time to prepare and take the necessary precautions. As a general rule, it’s not the best idea to live right on the immediate shoreline, especially if land is only a foot or two above sea level. All it takes is a strong storm, not even a hurricane, to cause tides to rise a few feet above normal. It’s also a consideration to try to slow the global temperature rise. We can do this by trying to go green, putting less harmful emissions into the air and studying the Earth’s climate to see how it is changing. The rate at which ice melts could change…it could be exponential and get worse faster, or it could potentially slow down as well.

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Quincy

Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com.

After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design.

He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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