A new study shows that as global warming continues, Antarctica's ice shelves may melt faster than initially thought and add up to 14 inches to sea levels by the end of the century.
The study, done by an international team of scientists, used data collected about Antarctica and climate change and plugged that into computer models. The models showed startling results: Antarctica may soon be the top source of rising sea levels faster than scientists previously believed if greenhouse gases continue to increase at their current level.
These results suggest that by the end of the century, cities like New York, Shanghai and Tokyo could be at risk of flooding.
"Now this is a big range - which is exactly why we call it a risk: Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty, so that decision makers at the coast and in coastal megacities like Shanghai or New York can consider the potential implications in their planning processes," says study lead author Anders Levermann.
Currently, the ice sheet of Antarctica has enough water to add around 190 feet to sea levels. Fortunately, at the current rate of warming, that would take thousands of years. However, Antarctica is melting at a faster rate than expected. Although the continent only contributes a little less than 10 percent to rising sea levels now, warming of the ocean around it is increasing its rate of melting. Because Antarctica has such vast quantities of ice, its melting would cause significant sea level rise.
The computer models projected a higher amount of sea level rise due to Antarctica. Even if we can slow down global warming, Antarctica is still melting and can add anywhere from zero to nine inches of water to the world's oceans.
Robert Bindshadler of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center was a co-author of the study. He stresses the importance of planning for sea level rise, estimating that by the middle of the century, we can expect sea levels to increase by one feet. In the next 50 years, Bindshadler estimates that sea levels will rise an additional two feet over that.
The situation is more drastic if the West Antarctic Ice sheet collapses sooner than anticipated, which Bindshadler believes is possible.
Although there are still skeptics of climate change, Bindshadler stands by his statements. He states that science has proven that there is more carbon dioxide in the air now and how that impacts global warming, along with how burning fossil fuels contributes to warmer temperatures.
"And all the projections of climate models are becoming observable facts," he says. "That's all you need. It's real straightforward."