After crossing the legendary Drake Passage, we came in sight of the Antarctic continent. It is a majestic, otherworldly place. The Antarctic Peninsula, which juts northward toward South America, is lined with ice-covered mountains and surrounded by abundant wildlife in the sea. But even on this continent that looks and feels pristine, a troubling process is underway because of global warming.
The ice on land is melting at a faster rate and large ice sheets are moving toward the ocean more rapidly. As a result, sea levels are rising worldwide. Most of the world’s ice is contained in Antarctica – more than 90 percent. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which lies south of the Peninsula, contains enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by more than 20 feet. Part of the ice sheet, the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, is among the many in Antarctica that are shrinking at an accelerating rate. This has direct consequences for low-lying coastal and island communities all over the world – and for their inland neighbors.
In analyzing the relationship between melting ice and sea level rise, it is important to distinguish between two kinds of ice: the ice on land and the ice floating on top of the sea. When floating ice melts, sea level is not affected, because its weight has already pushed the sea level upward. But the melting of glaciers and ice sheets resting on land does increase sea level rise. So far, the melting of small mountain glaciers and portions of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland has been the main contributor to sea level rise from the loss of ice. (As the oceans warm up, their volume naturally expands, and this too has been a contributor to a small portion of the sea level rise that has occurred in the age of global warming).
Former US Vice-President and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore is currently en-route to Antarctica with Sir Richard Branson. Their mission: to document the powerful effects of climate change in one of the world’s most vulnerable places.
Read more: Climate Reality Project >>
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