Antarctic ice melting in eastern areas of the frozen continent could raise sea levels worldwide by up to 13 feet, warn environmentalists.
The Wilkes Basin in Antarctica could be one of the areas of the landmass that could be especially susceptible to rising temperatures, based on a new study. A warmer climate could produce massive ice slides into the ocean, possibly raising sea levels for thousands of years.
The massive land form extends over 600 miles inland from the ocean. An ice wall holds much of the frozen water from reaching the ocean. If this "cork" holding back the ice melts, much of the frozen cover in Wilkes could travel to the warmer waters. Researchers calculated that if all the ice in the basin were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by up to 13 feet.
Matthias Mengel from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research led research into the basin. He and his team concluded that ice flows from the basin could be unstoppable once the process started.
A UN report lately reported rising temperatures could cause a greater number of severe storms, heatwaves and droughts worldwide. Nearly 200 governments have agreed to reach a pact by the end of 2015 to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.
Global warming studies often examine the loss of mass from West Antarctica and Greenland, but eastern areas of the icy continent are often overlooked.
"Changes in ice discharge from Antarctica constitute the largest uncertainty in future sea-level projections, mainly because of the unknown response of its marine basins," researchers wrote an article announcing the results of their study.
The ice plug could take as long as two centuries to melt, given current levels of temperature rise, says the study. After the natural dam disappeared, it would take another 5,000 to 10,000 years for all of the ice from the basin to move to the water.
"If half of that ice loss occurred in the ice-cork region, then the discharge would begin. We have probably overestimated the stability of East Antarctica so far," Anders Levermann, one of the co-authors of the study, said in a press release.
Since 1900, sea levels have risen by about 7.75 inches globally. The UN report stated those levels are expected to increase by between 10 and 32 inches by the end of the century.
Computer simulations were carried out, making the prediction that once the basin starts emptying, the process may be unstoppable, even if temperatures leveled off.
Study of the ice plug at the Wilkes Basin and how sea levels could be affected by melting there was profiled in the journal Nature Climate Change.