April 17, 2021

These Animated Maps Show How The Earth Would Look Like If All The Ice Would Melted

In 2015, NASA revealed that Earth’s oceans are rising faster than expected, and the space agency projected that we’re now “locked in” to at least 90 cm of sea level rise in the coming decades.

That in itself would be enough to displace millions of people around the world, but if this trend continues and all our polar ice caps and glaciers melt, it’s been predicted that the oceans will rise by a mind-blowing 65.8 meters (216 feet). So where will all that water end up?

If the world keeps burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon emissions indefinitely, climate change will eventually melt all the ice at the poles and on mountains, according to National Geographic.

Source: National Geographic

National Geographic teamed up with scientists and universities around the world to give an accurate depiction of what Earth would look like if sea level rose by 216 feet, the equivalent of melting all the water currently locked away in ice. This includes ice from continents (mountain snowpack, glaciers, ice sheets etc.) as well as ice on oceans and lakes. One assumption is that all ice contained on land has drained to the sea and not held in continental lakes or rivers.

Once all ice is melted and added to the global oceans our seas would rise by 216 feet as compared to the current level. An estimated 5 million cubic miles of ice exists on Earth, which appears to be on an inevitable melting trend given the recent observations.

Source: National Geographic

To get an idea of how likely this is, let’s look at the past as a guide to the future. Several studies measuring paleoclimatic proxies including carbon isotopes, fossils, elemental ratios, and plant stomata attempt to determine at what CO2 level the Antarctic ice sheet disappears. The upper range of the ice sheet’s stability is somewhere between 500 ppm to near 800 ppm CO2. At that point, the Earth is on a path to being ice-free for thousands of years. One upside is that while we may get to the 500 ppm tipping point in the next century, it will take thousands of years for all the ice on the planet to fully melt. Hence giving humans generations to adapt to a wildly different planet.

Source: National Geographic

Given Earth’s current CO2 level of 409 ppm and an increase of 2-3 ppm per year, it’s not far off to see we’re headed to 500+ ppm in short order. Hopefully at this point, regardless of who or what you blame for the increasing temperatures, you agree that we’re on a trend toward an ice-free planet. Whether it’s natural, man-made, or both, humans have quite some adjusting to do.

The writing is on the wall that humans will have to adapt to a very different world as ice melts and oceans rise. Most of the Atlantic coast, Florida, and the Gulf Coast will be underwater.

Source: National Geographic

In addition, large scale climate variations will alter seasonal rainfall, creating infertile land where it once was fertile.

How do cities like Miami, New Orleans, New York City, etc. adapt to steadily encroaching seas?

At what point do you rebuild inland, or do you continue to engineer barriers and levees?

How much does it cost to relocate cities and all the infrastructure that supports them?

How many lives are at risk?

Now, transplant these issues from an economic powerhouse like the United States to developing countries and you have the potential for mass famine, destruction, and warfare.

Source: National Geographic

What happens when over time eastern Russia becomes the warmer fertile farming grounds that a now dry infertile China needs to feed its population?

How do trade supplies of agricultural goods shift with changing climate patterns?

There are no easy answers but the evidence is building that we need to begin to work through solutions to these future dilemmas. These are no doubt the tremendous challenges this generation and many to come will have to face.

Source: National Geographic

National Geographic explains: “There are more than five million cubic miles of [ice], and no one really knows how long it would take to melt it all. Probably more than 5,000 years, some scientists say. But if we burn all the earth’s supply of coal, oil, and gas, adding some five trillion more tons of carbon to the atmosphere, we’ll create a very hot planet, with an average temperature of perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the current 58. Large swaths of it might become too hot for humans. And it would likely be ice-free for the first time in more than 30 million years.”

Source: National Geographic

It’s a terrifying look at what the future could hold, but hopefully projections like this one can lead to a unified effort across the globe to combat it. If not, there’s going to be a lot of moving going on.