Collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet may pose threat to nations in southern Indian Ocean

February 6th, 2009 - 2:18 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 6 (ANI): University of Toronto geophysicists have predicted that following the collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the coastlines of North America and of nations in the southern Indian Ocean will face the greatest threats from the resulting rising sea levels.

There is widespread concern that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be prone to collapse, resulting in a rise in global sea levels, said geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica, who, along with physics graduate student Natalya Gomez and Oregon State University geoscientist Peter Clark, are the authors of the new study.

Weve been able to calculate that not only will the rise in sea levels at most coastal sites be significantly higher than previously expected, but that the sea-level change will be highly variable around the globe, said Gomez.

Scientists are particularly worried about the ice sheet because it is largely marine-based, which means that the bedrock underneath most of the ice sits under sea level, said Mitrovica.

The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves which act to stabilize the ice sheet. These shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse, he added.

According to Mitrovica, if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, the rise in sea levels around many coastal regions will be as much as 25 per cent more than expected, for a total of between six and seven metres if the whole ice sheet melts.

Thats a lot of additional water, particularly around such highly populated areas as Washington, D.C., New York City, and the California coastline, he added.

There is still some important debate as to how much ice would actually disappear if the West Antarctic Ice sheet collapses some fraction of the ice sheet may remain quite stable, said Mitrovica.

But, whatever happens, our work shows that the sea-level rise that would occur at many populated coastal sites would be much larger than one would estimate by simply distributing the meltwater evenly, he added. (ANI)

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