Climate crisis: If all the ice melts…

The National Geographic has a really nice interactive graphic showing the world’s future shorelines if all the ice on the planet were to melt as a result of climate change. And unless we stop now, we will melt all the ice.

Becca Morn wrote about this earlier. I want to add to what she said and provide some context.

As the introduction states:

The maps here show the world as it is now, with only one difference: All the ice on land has melted and drained into the sea, raising it 216 feet and creating new shorelines for our continents and inland seas.

There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all. If we continue adding carbon to the atmosphere, we’ll very likely create an ice-free planet, with an average temperature of perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the current 58.

First, did you note that part above about “some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all”? That’s the National Geographic being … careful. With the data, you ask, or with the great and the powerful? I’m not in position to say.

What I will say is that a change of +22°F is +12°C, and many of us are predicting +7°C or more by 2100, and that’s going to melt some ice. I’ll bet “some scientists” are saying that global warming is a hoax and, even today, that tobacco is candy for the lungs. I’ll let you know what “other scientists” like James Hansen think of ice-melt rates later. (Hint: Five million years ago, when global warming was about +1°C warmer than the year 2000, sea level was 25 meters higher than now — that’s 75 feet.)

Could the earth have only Antarctic sea ice by 2100? Absolutely. Arctic summer ice has gone from about 10 million square kilometers in 1900 to about 6 million today, according to the IPCC AR5 (pdf), the latest released (see Fig. SPM.3b).

According to the IPCC, at current rates of loss the Arctic will be ice-free in about six decades, or by 2080. But rates of loss are rapidly accelerating, aren’t they. Just look at this, observed vs. modeled ice loss, published in 2009:

Arctic sea ice — projected vs. observed as of 2009

Arctic sea ice — modeled vs. observed as of 2009 (source, Figure 13)

As I’ve said, scientists are inherently conservative; in normal times it’s one of their virtues. But these aren’t normal times, and we seem always to be wrong to the slow side.

The National Geographic’s interactive maps

Whatever you think of the rate of decline in earth ice, the maps are instructive. Also conservative, since I don’t believe the predicted rise in 216 feet takes into account the fact that warmer water takes up more volume than colder water.

But that’s a quibble when the entire state of Florida is underwater; New York is offshore; San Francisco is a group of islands; and the Gulf of Mexico reaches to Pine Bluff and Little Rock, Arkansas. Here’s a taste:

North American seacoast if all ice melted (credit: National Geographic)

North American seacoast if all ice melted (credit: National Geographic)

The text for this map:

North America

The entire Atlantic seaboard would vanish, along with Florida and the Gulf Coast. In California, San Francisco’s hills would become a cluster of islands and the Central Valley a giant bay. The Gulf of California would stretch north past the latitude of San Diego — not that there’d be a San Diego.

Click around to see the fate of other favorite cities and coastlines. As near as I can guess now (I may revise this on further study) 45°N latitude is about the cutoff for livable weather in the latter half of the 21st century (this one). Paris is 48°N. Beijing is 39°N, and at the northeast end of the North China Plain, the traditional breadbasket of China.

The North China Plain is also only 50 meters — 160 feet — above sea level  (oops).

As you click around, here’s a fun exercise — Look for the places our masters and mistresses will try to build their new homes and palaces, after they capture the governments of those regions to do so. The 21st century will be a rich study for historians. Let’s hope we still have some (historians).

What about near-term sea-level problems?

The huge hurricane in the Philippines alerted some of us to the dangers present today. Why only some of us? Because others of us were tagging the scavenging survivors as “looters” — in print. When the victims are “them” — blacks, browns, poor — we don’t see the danger to ourselves. If we did, the victims would be “us.”

But there is danger to all-American “us” — in Florida. The same storm in Miami could instantly be the writing on the wall for all of south Florida, not just in terms of livability, but economically and developmentally as well. Who would build after such a storm? And if they did, who would insure? In that environment, what happens to real estate values the very next day (he asks rhetorically)? Gone of course, followed by the population.

In truth, that Florida writing is already on the wall, in invisible ink. But that’s a tale for another day.

Why say all this?

I say this because I don’t think we’ve hit the physical tipping point yet, and I’m reading more and more about global resistance, including in the U.S., against those I’m calling our “lords and masters.” If their iron rule fails — or is wrested from them — while there’s still time to stop the carbon train, good for us. Our job is to educate that resistance so we get the solution we need.

Of course, our masters and mistresses could also grow a conscience. But that would require some humanity, and these people are backing the “Catfood for Grannie” plan in times that are merely lean. Still, could happen, right? Consciences do grow, right?

Bottom line — It really isn’t over. Time to strap it up and play to the end of the game. There’s no way to win if we don’t, right?

Humbly submitted,


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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