'One in 20' risk of ice sheet collapse
If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — which contains 13 per cent of the continent’s ice — does disintegrate, it would double current estimates of sea-level rise, and could raise global sea levels by 5 metres over several centuries.
The survey, carried out by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Norwegian environmental safety organisation Det Norske Veritas, and published in the January issue of Climatic Change, is intended to give policy makers some basis on which to make decisions regarding climate change.
Although the possible break up of the ice sheet is part of a natural cycle, the dramatic sea-level rise that would be caused would exacerbate the effects of human-induced global warming.
Some commentators have argued that the significance of the study is that it reveals a relatively low probability of complete ice sheet collapse,
However, David Vaughan of the BAS, who led the research, describes the study as a “huge health warning”.
He adds: “The potential impacts of a major change in the West Antarctic ice sheet are severe — sea level rise will be fantastically expensive for developed nations with coastal cities and dire for poor populations in low-lying coastal areas.”
© SciDev.Net 2002
Related external links:
Abstract of paper in Climatic Change
British Antarctic Survey
Det Norske Veritas
Photo credit: NREL