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Mountain of Ice

If the Ice Melts


Mountain of Ice homepage

Despite a lot of science and even more debate, scientists don't have a clear idea about whether the ice in Antarctica as a whole is growing or shrinking. They do worry, however, that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might shrink enough to raise global sea levels appreciably in the coming centuries. The worst-case scenario is a complete collapse of the sheet, which would jack sea levels up by as much as 20 feet.

Below, see what would happen to selected coastlines around the world if such a disintegration occurred. See also how these coasts looked 20,000 years ago at the height of the Ice Age, when seas were 400 feet lower than today, as well as how they would appear if the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet were to disintegrate. No one believes this tremendous dome will disintegrate anytime soon. But if it did, it would raise seas around the world by as much as 200 feet. (To play it safe, these images depict a conservative rise of 17 feet if the West sheet collapsed and 170 feet if the East sheet did. Note that black lines represent current coastlines).—Peter Tyson

Click on the images below to see larger versions.


U.S. East Coast

US East Coast/17-foot rise US East Coast/170-foot rise US East Coast 20,000 years ago

If West sheet melted

If East sheet melted

20,000 years ago


Florida

Florida/17-foot rise Florida/170-foot rise Florida 20,000 years ago

If West sheet melted

If East sheet melted

20,000 years ago


Northern Europe

Northern Europe/17-foot rise Northern Europe/170-foot rise Northern Europe/20,000 years ago

If West sheet melted

If East sheet melted

20,000 years ago


Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia/17-foot rise Southeast Asia/170-foot rise Southeast Asia/20,000 years ago

If West sheet melted

If East sheet melted

20,000 years ago



Note: This feature originally appeared in a slightly different form on the Warnings From the Ice Web site.




Mountain of Ice Web Site Content
Krakauer in Antarctica

Krakauer in Antarctica
Jon Krakauer on what sets the White Continent apart.

The Producer's Story

The Producer's Story
Liesl Clark on making this film while scaling Vinson.

Expedition Panoramas

Expedition Panoramas
View 360-degree photos of NOVA camps en route to Vinson.

Life Cycle of a Glacier

Life Cycle of a Glacier
Follow a snowflake as it lands on a glacier and goes for a prolonged ride.

If Antarctic Ice Melts

If the Ice Melts
See the world's coastlines if Antarctica's ice melted.


Peter Tyson is editor in chief of NOVA online.


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