|July 23, 2020|
Sea levels could soar 13 feet if the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melts
|Scientists studied the East Antarctic ice sheet and think the Wilkes Basin retreated 400,000 years ago and may not be as stable as some people think.|
Some experts are worried that mass melting at the East Antarctic Ice Sheet could have a devastating impact on our sea levels and coastal towns and cities.
The researchers from UC Santa Cruz focussed on the Wilkes Basin, an area near the edge of the ice sheet, because it is considered to be vulnerable.
They think if it melted it would raise sea levels by 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 metres).
First author of the study Terrence Blackburn said: "Our data shows that the grounding line in the Wilkes Basin retreated 700 kilometers (435 miles) inland during one of the last really warm interglacials, when global temperatures were 1 to 2 degrees Celsius warmer than now.
"That probably contributed 3 to 4 meters to global sea level rise, with Greenland and West Antarctica together contributing another 10 meters."
Historic evidence of this kind of melt suggests a similar event could happen in the future.
This wouldn't be good news for people who live on the coast as even a small sea level rise could cause major issues.
Estimates suggest manmade greenhouse gas emissions could also raise global temperatures by 1 to 2 celsius, meaning the ice sheet would be back in the same position again.
Blackburn said: "We've opened the freezer door, but that block of ice is still cold and it's not going anywhere in the short term.
"To understand what will happen over longer time scales, we need to see what happened under comparable conditions in the past."
Studying ancient melting at ice sheets is hard because ice ages have happened since that meant glaciers reformed.
The researchers were able to date melting at the ice by looking for areas where deposits indicated a period of warmth and then measured uranium levels to check the time period.