Rapid West Antarctic ice melt dilemma poses unprecedented threat to U.S.

Avatar By Le Williams | 2 years ago

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Antarctic Peninsula accelerated melting activities accumulated global headlines on June 14, as scientists revealed 3 trillion tons of ice have unthawed into the sea since 1992.

According to climate scientists, determining the future of coastal communities and sea-level rising critically revolves around the direct location of the ice melt.

As the West Antarctica Ice Sheet rapidly melts, research explains how the U.S. coastline will be severely impacted with a 25% sea level increase.

The U.S. would see far more sea level rise from the melting of West Antarctica when compared to the shedding of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Gravity is the culprit for the anticipated 25% in sea-level increase for the U.S.

Rob DeConto, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts, says that as ice sheets melt, there is an elastic response from the Earth. “The Earth’s gravitational field changes because we’re redistributing mass around the planet,” he explains.

When an ice sheet loses ice, it reduces its gravitational pull toward itself, which means the local sea level near the ice sheet is reduced, particularly for Greenland or Antarctica.

Even if the entire Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt, places close to Greenland, such as northern Europe and northeastern North America, “wouldn’t even know,” DeConto says. “If you’re close to the ice sheet that’s losing mass you don’t really feel the effects as much.”

Distant places, such as the U.S., will compensate for this loss in mass. “It’s totally flipped upside down for Antarctica,” he says, as there is a “broad bullseye” around North America. “Sea level rise for the future, it’s not happening at the same rate in every part of the world… this gravity thing has a big impact,” DeConto says.

In addition, the loss of mass in Antarctica has a small change in the Earth’s axis of rotation, which can also help to distribute sea level rise unequally.