A new study in the journal Scientific Reports estimates that melting ice will cause sea levels to rise 2 feet within the next 70 years, and a whopping 8 feet by the year 2200. Scientists believe that sea levels will most likely continue to rise until the sea is 25 to 30 feet higher than it is today, wiping many coastal cities and island nations completely off the map.
Image © Lima Pix
Worryingly, these estimates are based on the assumption that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will remain at the 400 parts per million level they are at today. If they rise significantly beyond this point, the long-term results could be even more catastrophic; the current pace of sea level rise is already twice as fast as any other historical period between ice ages.
There is a (slight) silver lining to the study’s findings, however. No matter how quickly the Earth’s ice sheets are decaying now, the pace is unlikely to increase significantly even if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise — instead, sea levels will simply continue to rise over a longer period of time. Since the oceans are likely to change over the course of generations rather than just a few short years, it will be slightly easier for people in low-lying and coastal areas to plan any long-term infrastructure changes that may be needed.
That’s because the current rate of sea level rise is already near the upper level of what scientists believe is normally possible. In fact, certain areas, like the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, have remained stable despite rising global temperatures. As long as atmosphere CO2 levels remain under 1,000 parts per million, it’s expected to remain that way. Obviously, of course, that doesn’t mean world governments shouldn’t take immediate action to reduce emissions.
Lead image © Pedro Szkeley