For those who are unfamiliar with the term global warming, it refers to a sustained increase in the Earth’s atmospheric temperature. And it goes a long way toward explaining why Antarctica is experiencing an increase in melting ice.
Antarctica is the fifth-largest of the world’s seven continents, with a total surface size measuring about 5.5 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, an information and referral center that supports polar and cryospheric research.
In terms of scale, Antarctica is about half the size of the United States. Antarctica is the only continent that remains frozen year-round. Thus, it holds the nickname the “white continent.”
Also, note that less than 0.5 percent of the continent’s surface is free of an ice covering. However, this may soon change, according to many environmentalists.
How Climate Change Is Impacting the White Continent
Let’s look at how Antarctica’s ice sheets are impacted by what scientists and environmentalists call climate change or global warming.
Nearly the entire continent of Antarctica is covered with land ice. This ancient ice formed from thousands of years of snowfall. One of the things that helped clue researchers and scientists in on the fact that this land ice is melting was the noticeable rise in the Earth’s global mean sea level.
For reference, the global mean sea level, also known as a tidal datum, is the average height of the sea surface when compared to one or more of the Earth’s bodies of water. In coming up with the global mean sea level, scientists and researchers will utilize sea level measurements that were recorded over the past 19 years, which is scientifically known as a Metonic cycle.
According to a study published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 1993 and 2018, the global mean sea level rose at a rate of 0.11 to 0.14 inches every single year.
Researchers and scientists who have been studying this data believe that this increase has a lot to do with climate change. And there is significant and credible scientific evidence to support their hypotheses.
How Events of the Past Are Influencing Modern-Day Research
Scientists witness and record firsthand then melting of ice sheets, glaciers, ice shelves, and icebergs. Indeed, many researchers also looked to events of the past to forecast what could potentially happen to the white continent in the future.
After all, this is not the first time that global warming has made an impact on Antarctica. To help substantiate this claim, we need only take a look at a study published by sciencedaily.com, a science news aggregation and curation website.
According to the study, during the last interglacial period, which is a timeframe that refers to an interval of warmer than average global temperatures that last for millenniums, a significant percentage of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was lost due to ocean warming.
And this increase in temperature was less than 2 degrees Celsius, according to the researchers. Nonetheless, it was enough of a temperature change to contribute to an above-average global mean sea level. According to Chris Turney, a Professor of Earth and Climate Science at the University of New South Wales, Australian public research university, it appears we are heading down that same path once again.
How Volcanic Ash Proves That Ice Is Melting in the White Continent
Along with melting ice sheets, several researchers and scientists studying climate change and its impact observed volcanic ash in the melted ice. This phenomenon is the same that occurred thousands of years ago. This observation allowed researchers and scientists to conclude that the continent is just as susceptible to climate change as it was thousands of years ago.
Therefore, we could potentially lose a significant percentage of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Additionally, we could see an increase in the mean global sea level, according to Chris Turney.
How Will the Melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Impact the Earth?
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt completely, the mean global sea level would increase by 5 to 7 meters, which is approximately 16 to 23 feet.
And this will have a devastating impact on the lives of countless people. Adding to that, a separate study published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that above-average sea levels could trigger destructive storm surges that could potentially push further inland than they ever did previously.