New Research on Melting Ice Sheets

Fri Mar. 24, 2006 1:32 PM EST

The current issue of Science Magazine is devoted to ice—or, more specifically, the accelerating rate at which the world's ice sheets are melting. "Glacial earthquakes" have reportedly been rocking Greenland of late, as giant chunks of ice the size of Manhattan, lubricated by melting water, start stumbling into the ocean.

According to the findings in Science, the Earth's temperature by 2100 will probably be at least 4 degrees warmer than it is now, if current warming rates continue. The Arctic Ocean will be warmer than it's been in 130,000 years. Computer models indicate that warming could raise the average temperature in parts of Greenland to above freezing for multiple months, which could have a substantial impact on melting of the polar ice sheets, according to a paper by researchers led by Bette Otto-Bliesner of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. That melting could, in turn, raise the sea level by one to three feet over the next 100 to 150 years.

As Science puts it, "man is doing an experiment with the ice sheets, which is a scientifically interesting experiment, except it is going to have some serious consequences." As a result, island nations could be submerged, cities flooded, and millions of coastal residents could be exposed to destructive storm surges. According to researcher Julian Dowdeswell of Cambridge University, "the changing mass of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica represents the largest unknown in predictions of global sea level rise over the coming decades," making scientists increasingly concerned that at the rate we're going, global warming because of greenhouse emissions could raise sea levels to catastrophic proportions.