Of all the studies heralding the dangers of human-made climate change, the one released last month, signaling the inevitable destruction of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, was particularly alarming. That’s in part because it was not speculative, but certain: The ice sheet has passed the point of no return. In time, centuries perhaps, it will collapse into the sea. “Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” Eric Rignot, a glaciologist, said when he announced the finding.
The destabilization of the ice sheet could cause a 4-foot or much greater rise in sea level, flooding coastal communities on every continent. Though that process can be slowed via climate-change mitigation, the forces of physics will ensure that it happens. “It’s kind of difficult at this point to see any physical process that could stop it,” Rignot says in the video above.
The video, created by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, explains why the ice sheet melt is unstoppable. Basically: Warm water is melting the ice sheet’s glaciers from the bottom up. Eventually, the amount of water beneath the ice will force the ice sheet up and out.