The One Video to Explain Why the Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Doomed

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June 3, 2014, 7:22 a.m.

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.

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