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Earth Science

Could Collapsing Antarctic Glaciers Raise Sea Levels Sooner Than Expected? (salon.com) 418

"We may be headed for an ice apocalypse which could result in the flooding of coastal cities before the end of this century," writes long-time Slashdot reader whoever57. Grist reports on two of the largest and fastest-melting glaciers in Antarctica which "hold human civilization hostage." There's no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when... Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world's oceans -- an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet... Each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs... In the past few years, scientists have identified marine ice-cliff instability as a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet this century -- much more quickly than previously thought. Minute-by-minute, huge skyscraper-sized shards of ice cliffs would crumble into the sea, as tall as the Statue of Liberty and as deep underwater as the height of the Empire State Building. The result: a global catastrophe the likes of which we've never seen... When [land-based ice] falls into the ocean, it adds to the overall volume of liquid in the seas. Thus, sea-level rise.... All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years -- much too quickly for humanity to adapt...

A lot of this newfound concern is driven by the research of two climatologists: Rob DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and David Pollard at Penn State University. A study they published last year was the first to incorporate the latest understanding of marine ice-cliff instability into a continent-scale model of Antarctica... Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely, according to DeConto and Pollard's findings. But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.

If sea levels rise by six feet, "around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world's most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map."
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Could Collapsing Antarctic Glaciers Raise Sea Levels Sooner Than Expected?

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  • by DatbeDank ( 4580343 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @11:40PM (#55627479)

    The parable of the boy that cried wolf seems very apt for this story.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Kohath ( 38547 )

      The world ended. Didn't you notice?
      - All the bees died and there's no food in the stores.
      - We all have 5 tropical diseases. My Ebola is really a bummer. Keeps me up at night.
      - New York City is underwater and the cast of Cats is anxiously clinging to the top of the Chrysler building, hissing at the rising water.
      - Polar bears retreated northward and are now all huddled around Superman's fortress of solitude drinking their last bottles of Coca-Cola.
      - Phoenix is so hot they moved their airport underground.
      -

      • Doctor, don't do time travel if you're drunk, this is 2017, not 2050, you're not supposed to write about current events in the past, you know how this ends. Now step into the fucking Tardis and sleep it off!

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

      About the same, if you had paid any attention, only on a longer timescale.

    • by KeensMustard ( 655606 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @04:04AM (#55628131)

      The parable of the boy that cried wolf seems very apt for this story.

      Yes indeed.

      Firstly, the boy cried "It's not warming" - it was.

      Then the boy cried "It's the sun!" - it wasn't.

      Then the boy cried "It's volcanoes!" - it wasn't.

      Then the boy cried "It's a conspiracy!" it wasn't.

      By this point, few villagers, if any, were listening to what the boy had to say at all.

      The the boy cried "It's stopped warming!" and a lot of people wondered if the boy understood anything at all.

      So yes, we are pretty skeptical of what that particular boy (or group of boys) has to say.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )

      Funny how The Science Is Settled when someone points out an effect that would imply climate change is not as bad as conventional wisdom says. However when someone points out an effect that would imply climate change is worse than conventional wisdom says, it's trumpeted as a sign that Things Are Worse Than Thought.

      I.e. a bunch of armchair environmental activists doing the reporting are selective in what they report in order to push their agenda. Any story that makes things look better than they are is den

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And the point of the story was. THERE WAS A WOLF!

    • You might want to read the end of the story. He called the wolf, he was ignored, all the sheep were killed.

      In other words, if you don't give a fuck about your sheep, why employ a shepherd in the first place?

    • The parable of the boy that cried wolf seems very apt for this story.

      That TFA of this submission we're discussing goes straight to AGW as the only possible cause to explain the evidence cited is disturbing. Perhaps they should have gotten together with the scientists from the Slashhdot story I linked below and compared notes first before publishing.

      "NASA Discovers Mantle Plume That's Melting Antarctica From Below"

      https://science.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

      And link to the original study from the above article published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

      http://onlinelib [wiley.com]

      • That TFA of this submission we're discussing goes straight to AGW as the only possible cause to explain the evidence cited is disturbing. Perhaps they should have gotten together with the scientists from the Slashhdot story I linked below and compared notes first before publishing.

        "NASA Discovers Mantle Plume That's Melting Antarctica From Below"

        https://science.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

        And link to the original study from the above article published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com... [wiley.com]

        Strat

        Just because they recently discovered the mantle plume under Antarctica doesn't mean it's something new. Given what we know about mantle plumes chances are it's been there for millions of years and it's unlikely that the amount of melting it is doing has changed significantly in the recent pass. But I'm open to evidence for that if you can find it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 27, 2017 @12:02AM (#55627553)

    The article attempts to spread FUD around "megacities" vanishing, but in reality why do you not think any sea level rise would be engineered around just as the Dutch have done for over a hundred years?

    One issue I have though is that it seems like the current estimate of three feet rise over the next 100 years has already taken into account additional ice melt. I am pretty suspicious there is some double-booking going on here, which would be the norm for the climate "science" community.

    Another form of double accounting is pretending like we are anywhere near on track for the models that actually predict full ice melt; they are models based on the assumption we'd see runaway exponential warming which is not happening. That's how you know it's truly FUD, when they try to make a case not even viable at this point seem likely.

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <mvdwege@mail.com> on Monday November 27, 2017 @02:40AM (#55627985) Homepage Journal

      why do you not think any sea level rise would be engineered around just as the Dutch have done for over a hundred years?

      1. Make that multiple centuries, for starters.
      2. What do you think the cost is for engineering works on that scale? The completion cost of the Delta Works in 1997 was $7 billion.
      3. Given the 2 above, how reasonable is it to expect these kinds of works to be ready in time?
    • do you not think any sea level rise would be engineered around just as the Dutch have done for over a hundred years?

      Building higher seawalls is not a long term strategy. You don't really want megacities sitting in a deep bathtub where a single breach in the barrier would completely inundate it. Also, as the pressure of the seawater increases, it will start to penetrate under the wall. Florida already has that problem.

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      What do think is going to happen when the permafrosts finish melting and release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere? If not runaway global warming?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Statements such as "If sea levels rise by six feet, "around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world's most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map." are massive exaggerations. If this was even on the same side of the planet as reality those some places would be screwed every high tide.

    • It's pretty likely that this already includes the tide effects.
    • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @01:15AM (#55627777)

      Florida has an average elevation of 6' above sea level. Google it.
      A lot of the rest of the Coastal U.S. is also quite close to sea level.
      You can't live in a place that high tide washes across twice a day and that is going to be 20' under water during major storms.

      Mumbai doesn't make sense tho. It's much higher above sea level.

      But Shanghai would be toast.

      It's quite close to sea level now and has 10' tidal variance as it is.

      • But Shanghai would be toast.

        I hate wet toast.

      • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @06:04AM (#55628467)

        Miami already has a water problem. They have been battling it for some time now. All it will take is a direct hit from Hurricane Donald at a high tide and we'll be treated to legions of Conservatives saying how the climate has been changing for millenia and that nothing could have been done to save Miami...while they will claim a share of federal disaster aid for their time shares and condos.

      • You can't live in a place that high tide washes across twice a day and that is going to be 20' under water during major storms.

        You can if you rebuild your house on 26' high reinforced cement columns and trade your car for a boat. Homes are already on stilts in coastal areas like Florida because you can't really live 6' above high tide either. Ultimately, the southern half of Florida will go fully underwater in 2127, and become New Venice, the 52nd state.

    • Statements such as "If sea levels rise by six feet, "around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world's most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map." are massive exaggerations. If this was even on the same side of the planet as reality those some places would be screwed every high tide.

      Some years back I heard about a study where they asked very young children to describe the shape of the earth. Some thought sphere, some thought flat, others thought dome, and others just couldn't come up with a coherent answer.

      I spent a while reading your comment and trying to figure out how you thought tides and construction worked. My conclusion was that I don't think you have a coherent answer.

  • Adapt not Evolve (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @12:20AM (#55627621) Journal

    All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years -- much too quickly for humanity to adapt.

    Humanity can adapt to changes on a far more rapid timescale than this. We don't have to hang around until we evolve gills we just move to higher ground and rebuild. This will involve social and economic upheaval and a reduction in the standard of living on a short timescale but that does not mean we cannot adapt to the change.

    • Re:Adapt not Evolve (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday November 27, 2017 @01:54AM (#55627879) Homepage Journal

      All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years -- much too quickly for humanity to adapt.

      Humanity can adapt to changes on a far more rapid timescale than this. We don't have to hang around until we evolve gills we just move to higher ground and rebuild. This will involve social and economic upheaval and a reduction in the standard of living on a short timescale but that does not mean we cannot adapt to the change.

      Absolutely right. Anyone who tries to claim that global warming is an existential threat is being ridiculous. We will adapt.

      The short term adaptations required when sea levels rise in earnest and precipitation shifts between regions will almost certainly include large-scale government intervention to relocate populations, build massive systems of dikes and stormwalls, and engage in large-scale irrigation and fertilization projects to eke agricultural productivity out of newly-poor farmland while trying to turn newly-wet deserts into functional farms, etc. The political unrest that will be created by millions of starving people in less-affluent countries may well require a return to military conscription and militarization of a significant part of the (remaining) economy, to keep the upheaval out. Military force may be needed to disarm the population and suppress rebellions. We'll likely have to nationalize a lot of industries and use eminent domain to take a lot of land from people in the process of relocating and restructuring the population and the agricultural and industrial bases. Expect serious rationing and a major decline in average quality of life -- though you can also expect a massive reduction in inequality as wealth is confiscated for use in attacking the effects of warming.

      Yep, if we just let events proceed, we'll find ourselves in a large-scale crisis of the sort that requires organization on a massive scale, which will mandate huge government growth. It will probably even motivate suppressing national sovereignty in favor of a world government. Of course, government being what it is, the power it takes in order to address the problems will be greater than what is actually required. That's what happens in emergencies.

      Honestly, although the process will be very painful, the effects on social structure will be a progressive's wet dream. Conservatives and libertarians should be focused now on heading off this disaster, by implementing carbon markets to harness free market entrepreneurialism and innovation to halt and reverse warming before the effects arrive.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        When the ocean is so acidic that ocean life dies, it rots, that releases toxic gases which would kill most land life, this isn't just Idle speculation, mass extinction(s) have happened this way before. CO2 + water = carbonic acid, the ocean is already a lot more acidic because of humans.

    • All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years -- much too quickly for humanity to adapt.

      Humanity can adapt to changes on a far more rapid timescale than this. We don't have to hang around until we evolve gills we just move to higher ground and rebuild. This will involve social and economic upheaval and a reduction in the standard of living on a short timescale but that does not mean we cannot adapt to the change.

      What's the value of a modern metropolis, hundreds of billions? trillions? What percentage of those 12 million people go bankrupt when it turns out their city will be uninhabitable in 30 years?

      And you're not just talking about population relocation. At the same time this is going on storms have higher intensities, changing rainfall patterns cause harvests to drop, and countries start squabbling about how to use geo-engineering to improve their situation.

      North American and Europe can probably manage, though t

      • North American and Europe can probably manage, though the debate over who pays for that vanished wealth is going to be ugly. But China, India, and Pakistan?

        Europe can't manage, because the people from Pakistan can walk over to Europe. It's already happening today.

    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      How is this modded insightful?

      "We just move to higher ground and rebuild" Tens of millions of people, many of them with no resource whatsoever, moving to higher ground and rebuilding -- this is migration on a vast scale and will cause war. And building infrastructure to look after tens of millions of people is a gigantic undertaking.

      We might be able to "adapt to the change" -- what matters is how shitty the process is, and it's shaping up to be pretty fucking awful.

      • this is migration on a vast scale and will cause war.

        First, how is this different than today? We already have mas migrations and wars. Been that way for centuries, go read a history book.

        Second, things will be just fine in the USA. We got nuclear power, oil, and natural gas, more than enough energy for powering the machines to building up the infrastructure we need. This is a change that will take decades to happen. We can build a lot of dams, bridges, and whatever else we need in that time. The rest of the world might be fucked, with their wars and mig

      • We might be able to "adapt to the change" -- what matters is how shitty the process is, and it's shaping up to be pretty fucking awful.

        This was exactly the point I was making. The reason we want to stop global warming is that adapting to it is going to cause a huge amount of social and economic upheaval. Instead of making dishonest claims that it is impossible for us to adapt to global warming we should be looking at the economic costs of adapting to vs. avoiding global warming. I believe this will show that avoiding is the far better option but, for once, could we please have a debate based on facts rather than the hyperbole that both si

  • So there's not enough to worry about now? We don't have problems that need work this year? We have to worry about what "might happen"? I should be worrying that Mumbai might flood in 80 years? There's no chance they might find a solution between now and then? We all have to argue over who's the bigger bastards, the deniers or the over-reactors? Me, I got more important things to worry about
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @12:31AM (#55627653) Journal

    I suppose all you Slashdot sheeple actually believe there is a place called "Antarctica" and that there are "glaciers" there. It's because you've been brainwashed by Marxist-run universities and their so-called "science" which is just SJW virtue signaling.

    You should view my series of 7-hour YouTube videos called, "Why Science is for Losers" and subscribe to my channel. Use the promotion code: "88_14WORDS_Hexen_WhiteWolfMRA".

    And don't forget to hit up my Patreon page, because bringing the truth to the masses is thirsty work, and have you seen the price of Mike's Hard Lemonade lately?

    • You know, 10 years ago this would have been modded funny and nobody would have bothered to reply because it is SO far out there that it MUST be a joke.

      Poe's Law. It's not just for Creationists anymore.

  • Many coastal cities are largely well above sea level. They may lose a few hundred feet to the ocean but they would not be submerged.

    In addition some coastal cities were raised or had seawalls and other protection put in place after earlier flooding or storms.

    • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @01:08AM (#55627757)

      New York City - 33â above sea level.
      Sandy Storm Surge was just under 14'. If it had been 14', it would have destroyed the subway system- basically killing mass transit in New York.

      Miami... no- let's talk Florida- averages 6' above sea level.

      All of our major ports are built at sea level. Many of our refineries are built at sea level (not cheap to rebuild).

      And keep in mind that about 90% of climate models assume we'll find some way to reduce the carbon level by 2100. We don't currently have any way to reduce the carbon level.

      I'm not saying it's real. I'm just saying you are being a bit flippant with something that is actually pretty serious.

      Sort of like the engineer who warned that the O rings were too cold on the shuttle. He was ignored and overridden too.

      • We don't currently have any way to reduce the carbon level.

        We do in fact. Dr. Darryl Seimer, a nuclear engineer and chemistry professor, has a proposal to do just that.

        The first step is to stop digging. We need to stop producing CO2 and to do that we need lots of nuclear power.

        The next thing is to enhance a natural process of turning basalt (a kind of bedrock) into limestone (also a kind of bedrock). We do this by mining the basalt and spreading it on croplands. Why would farmers agree to this? Because this is a variation on an ancient and continuing practice

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @02:49AM (#55628009)

    Each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs

    Antarctica's average precipitation [wikipedia.org] is 166 mm per year. Its surface area [wikipedia.org] is 14 million square km. Therefore it receives an average of:

    (0.166 meters)*(14 million km^2)*(1000 m/km)^2 = 2.324 trillion cubic meters of precipitation each year

    Since water weighs one ton per cubic meter, that.s 2.324 trillion tons of water falling onto Antarctica every year. Unlike most of the other continents, this precipitation does not flow to the sea as water. it mostly ends up locked up as snow or ice (there are a handful of "rivers [wikipedia.org]" - mostly small streams of glacial meltwater running to the sea). If you assume the ice on the continent has reached equilibrium (amount it gains equals amount it loses each year), that means it has to lose 2.324 trillion tons of ice each year, mostly as icebergs. If it loses more than that, sea levels go up. If it loses less than that, sea levels go down.

    That massive iceberg (4x the size of Manhattan) that broke off earlier this year was estimated at 1 trillion tons. While that's a huge amount to lose all at once, it's less than half the amount Antarctica needs to lose every year to maintain equilibrium. The press likes to hype up outlier events like that because it appears to confirm the belief that Antarctica's ice is melting. But outliers are just that - outliers, and not necessarily representative of what's actually happening. The last scientific net gain/loss study [nasa.gov] I saw actually concluded that Antarctica is gaining ice. Not losing it. Enough to lower sea levels by 0.23 mm per year.

    • ...
      That massive iceberg (4x the size of Manhattan) that broke off earlier this year was estimated at 1 trillion tons. While that's a huge amount to lose all at once, it's less than half the amount Antarctica needs to lose every year to maintain equilibrium. The press likes to hype up outlier events like that because it appears to confirm the belief that Antarctica's ice is melting. But outliers are just that - outliers, and not necessarily representative of what's actually happening. The last scientific net gain/loss study [nasa.gov] I saw actually concluded that Antarctica is gaining ice. Not losing it. Enough to lower sea levels by 0.23 mm per year.

      The GRACE satellites disagree with that study that shows a net gain of ice on Antarctica. By measuring changes in gravity the GRACE satellites find that Antarctica is actually losing ice overall, about 118 gigatonnes/year mostly in West Antarctica. GRACE Ice Sheets and Glaciers [nasa.gov]

  • These aren't heated significantly by whatever heat might be trapped by slightly more CO2 -- despite what politicians say, seeing as this whole Environment business has become more of just that, with excuses for taxation and making life more difficult for everyone. Unless you pay extra of course.

    Instead, just the other week, there was news about some large hot magma plumes being present underneath the Twaites Glacier and other nearby areas [bas.ac.uk], and that is what is heating up this ice. So it may still break out a

    • Instead, just the other week, there was news about some large hot magma plumes

      The magma plumes have been there for a long time, while the ice was stable. It didn't start moving until we added CO2 to the mix.

  • The jerks who denied global warming exists held back projects that might have saved millions of lives as well as the stabilization of economies and nations. Yet they will pay no penalty for their idiotic remarks and beliefs. Maybe we should be in deep prayer that the world enters an ice age while the warming pushes in the opposite direction. Wars and calamities are already taking place due to global warming and here we have a US president failing to take meaningful actions to alleviate or moderate the
  • Why does everyone think rising sea levels will force all the people out of cities? People are stubborn and will probably just make floating structures or raised structures on stilts and trade the car for a boat. Then, not only do you not have to leave, suddenly the earth just quadrupled its real estate market.

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