Hurricane Ian / NOAA 9/28/22

World - Opinion: Why collapsing glaciers are ruining your beach house plans

A series of reports ahead of a global climate conference make clear that rising sea levels are a more pressing threat than once predicted.

In the movie “Superman” (the original 1978 one with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor), the plot revolves around a scheme to transform property in California that’s miles inland into the new West Coast. Luthor plans to make this happen via a missile launched at the San Andreas Fault.

If he’d been a little more patient, though, he might have saved himself the trouble.

That’s because the world’s coastlines, according to an alarming series of new reports, are going to be inundated by rising sea levelsearlier than once predicted. Vast sheets of ice in Antarctica and polar regions like Greenland are melting at rates that may be irreversible at this point as the waters around them heat faster than expected. As things stand, the roughly 40% of the U.S. populationthat lives in coastal counties will need to abandon their homes in the coming decades. And we’re not at all prepared for the economic disaster that will come along with that.

The new research on melting ice sheets has scientists pretty sure that things are worse off than we’d thought.

A leading cause of that sea rise will be the increasing speed at which ice shelves like the West Antarctic shelf melt. That’s particularly bad, The Washington Post explains, because “unlike relatively thin and floating sea ice, the ice shelves are thicker and hold back massive glaciers that contain far more ice.” According to a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change, there may be no way to avoid the collapse of the West Antarctic shelf, precipitating up to 10 feet of sea-level rise. That alone would see beach cities like Miami reduced to a series of islands in projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Another report from the International Cryosphere Climate Initiativereleased last week was even more bleak. If things continue as they are, “the planet could be committed to more than 40 feet of sea-level rise — a melt that would take centuries and reshape societies across the globe,” NBC News reported. That’s far beyond the estimated 3 feet of sea-level rise that a 2021 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated would happen by 2100. The new research on melting ice sheets has scientists pretty sure that things are worse off than we’d thought.

“We’re displacing millions of people with the decisions being made now,” Julie Brigham-Grette, a geosciences professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an author of the report, told NBC News. Rob DeConto, the director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Earth & Sustainability and another co-author, said that the current rate of climate change would mean we’d be “facing rates of sea-level rise way outside the range of adaptability.”

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