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May 13, 2014

Ice sheet in Antarctica has melted past ‘point of no return,’ NASA says


Scientists have long been warning of the risks posed by melting ice sheets, but a new NASA study provides the most definitive information yet that parts of the ice sheet in West Antarctica are already melting in a pattern they say is now irreversible.

This melting ice will lead to higher sea levels, with scientists predicting a three-foot rise in the next 100 years.

“We kind of almost think of the ice as going into the ocean in a steady-state way,” said Tom Wagner, one of the lead members on the NASA research team that released the report. “But now what we have is evidence of kind of a jump. And what is happening literally is that we’re seeing the ice retreat off the points that it was grounded on into a deeper interior that can allow it to really speed up.”

The ice melt is being caused by warm water coming from deep parts of Antarctica that is being blown under the ice, causing it to melt.

“And the general idea is that probably winds that have changed their patterns because of global warming, coupled also with the ozone hole over Antarctica, have led stronger wind patterns around Antarctica, said Wagner.”

The sea level rise caused by melting ice would affect millions, even billions, of people around the world.

“In Bangladesh, a foot-and-a-half of sea level rise displaces 11 million people…It’s that serious,” warns Wagner. “All around the world, most of our cities are built on ports. The ports are right at sea level. And the thing is, you don’t just think about it like, oh, my beach — my house is four feet above sea level. Well, the problem is during a storm surge or something else, you get additional problems. So small amounts are really impactful.”

Warm up questions
  1. What are some of the impacts of climate change?
  2. Where is Antarctica? Is it a solid sheet of ice or is there ground underneath the ice?
Discussion questions
  1. What are some of the consequences of the ice melt in Antarctica? How will the ice melt affect the lives of people around the world?
  2. How do scientists believe this ice melt happened?
  3. Can it be fixed? Explain your answer.
Writing prompt

Imagine that you work for NASA and it is your job to educate the public about different topics studied by NASA. Create an informative article or fact sheet designed for non-scientists explaining the results of the study on the ice melt in Antarctica. Make sure to describe any images you would use, the geographic location of Antarctica, as the cause and effect relationship between the ice melt and its impact on the world. Finally, make sure to explain both why this ice melt pattern cannot be reversed and how average people can positively contribute to a better environment.

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