Climate Change and Why the Antarctic Ice Melt is a Big Deal
It was warmer in Antarctica one day last month than it was in New York City. On March 24th, a spot on the continent’s northern peninsula reached a believed record of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit – not a good sign in the fight against climate change, say the experts.
About a week later, Science journal released the results of a study that found that the rate of shrinking ice “shelves” in West Antarctica has accelerated by 70 percent over the past decade. These sheets of ice are important because they basically keep the massive on-land chunks of ice from crashing into the ocean.
If all of this “grounded ice” did melt into the ocean, sea levels around the globe could rise by more than 9 feet.
According to reports, this scenario isn’t exactly an imminent threat, but just because the glaciers aren’t expected to break off tomorrow doesn’t mean that it’s not an urgent issue. In 2002, an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Rhode Island collapsed in just three weeks after years of thinning.
Rising sea levels are a concern, of course, because they can harm coastal ecosystems, cause frequent flooding in low-lying areas or even submerge them completely.
But it’s not just rising sea levels that are cause for concern. An excessive level of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is absorbed by our ocean and its plants, is warming the earth’s water temperatures and making it more acidic. This is killing off algae, plankton, coral and other marine life.
Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the earth’s atmosphere, but human activity is altering the carbon cycle and adding too much CO2 to our air. There are a lot of things that cause harmful CO2 emissions. Among them, fossil fuels, deforestation and even natural sources like decomposition of food and other organic waste in landfills.
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