Melting ice could lead to massive waves of climate refugees

June 4th, 2009 - 1:25 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 4 (ANI): If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would raise sea level 7 meters, leading to massive waves of climate refugees.

According to a report in Environmental News Network (ENN), this is a warning made by Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, in a recent release.

The 2-kilometer-thick Antarctic ice sheet, which covers a continent about twice the size of Australia and contains 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, is beginning to melt.

Ice shelves that extend from the continent into the surrounding seas are starting to break up at an alarming pace.

In May 2007, a team of scientists from NASA and the University of Colorado reported satellite data showing widespread snow-melt on the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet over an area the size of California.

Konrad Steffen, one of the scientists involved, observed, “Antarctica has shown little to no warming in the recent past with the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now large regions are showing the first signs of the impacts of warming.”

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has analyzed the effect of a 10-meter rise in sea level, providing a sense of what the melting of the world’s largest ice sheets could mean.

The IIED study begins by pointing out that 634 million people live along coasts at or below 10 meters above sea level, in what they call the Low Elevation Coastal Zone.

This massive vulnerable group includes one eighth of the world’s urban population.

One of the countries most vulnerable is China, with 144 million potential climate refugees. India and Bangladesh are next, with 63 and 62 million respectively.

Viet Nam has 43 million vulnerable people, and Indonesia, 42 million. Others in the top 10 include Japan with 30 million, Egypt with 26 million, and the United States with 23 million.

The world has never seen such a massive potential displacement of people. Some refugees could simply retreat to higher ground within their own country.

Others, facing extreme crowding in the interior regions of their homeland, would seek refuge elsewhere.

Bangladesh, already one of the world’s most densely populated countries, would face a far greater concentration: in effect, 62 million of its people would be forced to move in with the 97 million living on higher ground.

Not only would some of the world’s largest cities, such as Shanghai, Kolkata, London, and New York, be partly or entirely inundated, but vast areas of productive farmland would also be lost.

The rice-growing river deltas and floodplains of Asia would be covered with salt water, depriving Asia of part of its food supply. (ANI)

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