A Global Warning: How Will Earth's Glacial Ice Respond to Climate Increase?

Scientists predict how fast glacial ice will melt in relation to global climate change.

| October 01, 2012

  • Melting Ice Sheets
    Researchers estimate that if all the world’s glaciers melted like ice cubes, sea level would go up about 15 inches by the end of the century.
    Courtesy of TED Books
  • Deep Water TED cover
    Daniel Grossman's "Deep Water" e-book relates the fascinating science behind sea-level research. 
    Courtesy of TED Books

  • Melting Ice Sheets
  • Deep Water TED cover

Global warming is defrosting the massive ice caps at Earth’s poles at an increasingly alarming rate. Water once safely anchored in glacial ice is now surging into the sea. The flow could become a deluge. Millions of people living near coastlines are in danger. Inundation could impact every nation on earth. 

But scientists don’t yet know how fast this ice will melt, or how high our seas could rise. In an effort to find out, a team of renowned and quirky geologists takes a 4,000-mile road trip across Western Australia. They collect fossils and rocks from ancient shorelines and accumulate new evidence that ancient sea levels were frighteningly high during epochs when average global temperatures were barely higher than today. 

In Deep Water, veteran environmental journalist, radio producer and documentary filmmaker Daniel Grossman explores the new and fascinating science — and scientists — of sea-level rise. His investigation turns up both startling and worrisome evidence that humans are upsetting a delicate natural equilibrium. If knocked off balance, it could hastily melt the planet’s ice and send sea level soaring. 

Melting Ice Sheets excerpted from Deep Water, a TED Book by Daniel Grossman is available via Kindle, Nook, iBook, and TED Books app. 

Unless we Earthlings get on a low-carbon diet — radically reducing our appetite for fossil fuels — two of Earth’s three great ice sheets, the Greenland and the West Antarctic, will shrink dramatically. (Researchers think the third, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, is less sensitive to extra heat, although this is still debated.) Evidence shows that these huge glaciers have already reacted to the 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming we’ve had since 1880s. For instance, until sometime in the 1990s, Greenland’s ice seemed to be neither gaining nor losing mass. It was in “equilibrium,” as scientists say.

Then, suddenly, the Jakobshavn Glacier, which was already the fastest moving in the world, doubled its seaward pace across Greenland’s ice sheet — from four to nearly eight miles per year.

10/23/2012 12:53:07 PM

Thank you t brandt, well said. Nothing mention about the Antarctic gain more ice this year than in ages.

Beth Beatrice
10/22/2012 12:59:21 PM

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/10/18/sea-ice-news-volume-3-number-15-arctic-refreeze-fastest-ever/ This link shows that the refreeze right now in the arctic is happening rapidly. This is the most recent data. Your article is out-of-date.

t brandt
10/18/2012 9:55:00 PM

Before you panic: while Arctic ice reached a record low this year (records only kept for a few decades), Antarctic ice reached a new maximum record (maybe it has to do with something other than "global warming"?)...Julius Caesar wrote very accurate & detailed accounts of the natural history of the lands he conquered in Europe. He had to cross the Alps to get there, yet never once mentioned glaciers, which must have caught his attention,had they been there to see.. As Alpine glaciers have retreated in recent years, old tree trunks have been exposed, dated to Caesar's time., ie- they couldn't have grown then, had there been glaciers covering the area. That means we're only returning to conditions the planet has seen before, and no cataclysmic crisis occurred then.

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