“Inevitable” West Antarctica Ice Sheet Collapse For Dummies

by
Fatimah Mazhar
Scientists confirm loss of ice sheet is unstoppable and irreversible. But what does that mean for us?

You must have noticed that the internet is flooded with reports warning about the “inevitable” collapse of a major section of West Antarctica's ice sheet.

To a layman, it might sound a lot like the end of the world or something apocalyptical. However, that’s certainly not the case – at least for now.

Following is a brief, easy-to-understandexplanation of what this “ice sheet melting” is all about.

What’s The West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

West Antarctica

West Antarctica, as the name suggests, is one of the two major regions of Antarctica – Earth’s southernmost continent – that lies within the Western Hemisphere. It’s also called “Lesser Antarctica”.

The region is covered by an ice sheet, which is consequently known as, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

What Has Happened Over There?

West Antarctica

Two separate studies by NASA and the University of Washington looked at the ice sheets of Western Antarctica over different periods of time. NASA scientists found thata“large section” of the hugestructure has begun falling apart and its continued meltingnow appears to be unstoppable.

Apparently, the six glaciers (pictured above) in Western Antarctica are already major contributors to the rise in global sea-level.

“All six glaciers together contain enough ice to add an additional 1.2m (4ft) to sea levels around the world,” Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA and the University of California, toldThe Guardian.

University of Washington researchers had an equally damning analysis. However, their point of concern was another glacier known as Thwaites that supposedly holds back the rest of the ice sheet like a dam.

“Once Thwaites goes, the remaining ice in the sheet could cause another 10 to 13ft (3-4m) of global sea-level rise,” the experts said.

What Can Be The Possible Consequences?

A rise in sea-levels globally could mean the following:

·         Higher storm-surge flooding,

·         Changes in surface water quality and groundwater characteristics,

·         Increased loss of property and coastal habitats,

·         Increased flood risk and potential loss of life,

·         Impacts on agriculture and aquaculture through decline in soil and water quality

What Can Be Done?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to stop the “inevitable”collapse. While human-induced global warming is a significant factor, scientists have cited other – more natural and complicated – causes as well.

“The only thing that could hold the glaciers back would be a large hill or big mountain that could block the retreat,” NASA glaciologist Rignot stated. “But there is none. So we think it is not going to be stoppable.”

How Worried Should We Be?

Although the acceleration in the melting of the WAIS ice sheet has never been this fast, the collapse of this region will occur as soon as 200 years from now.

So, relax. It’s not really the end of our world – not yet.

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