|When Antarctica melts, how much land will be left?|
|Question Date: 2019-04-17|
That depends on how much of the ice melts, and it
depends on what else Antarctica is doing in the
Much of the land of Antarctica is below
sea-level, so if you were to shine a giant
space laser or something like it onto Antarctica
and melt the ice right now, you would get only
a fraction of the land surface that is there
now. However, part of the reason why the land
on Antarctica is below sea level is that it is
pushed downward by the weight of the ice, so
if you were to melt the ice more slowly, the land
would come back up again and be above sea level.
Also, all of this depends on how much the global
sea level rises either as a result of the ice
melting or because of other factors.
Right now, it looks like Antarctica is going to
have a fair amount of ice on it for the
foreseeable future, human-caused warming
notwithstanding. Part of it will melt, but much
Most likely, not all of the ice in
Antarctica will melt.
The International Panel on Climate Change has
predicted that if Earth's average (worldwide
year-round) temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius
(3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), sea level could rise up
to 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) from melting ice in
Greenland and Antarctica and from ocean water
expanding due to heat.
The vast majority of land is more than 1.7
meters above sea level (the average land elevation
is 797 meters above sea level), so most of it will
not be submerged. The problem is that people
living in low lying areas near the coast will have
water much closer to them and be in more
danger from storms and floods. This is a big issue
in places like Florida and islands like the
To keep everyone safe, we will have to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow down
global warming, and people near coasts will
either have to move inland or build taller,
sturdier houses to withstand flooding.
Hi Veronica, the continent of Antarctica has
about 90% of the world’s ice so if it melted,
sea levels would rise about 60 meters, or 200
feet. In places like the US, coastal land
would disappear, but places like Colorado would
still be above water. San Francisco’s hills would
become little islands and Florida would pretty
much disappear. However, not all of the ice
will melt. The Antarctic ice cap, where most
of the ice exists, has survived much warmer times
than now. That being said, we should do
everything we can to stop this from happening and
fight climate change!
Fascinating question Veronica! Your question
could be answered for two directions of thought.
First, Antarctica is a continent covered 99% by
ice, meaning that all the ice on Antarctica is
completely underlain by land. Due to the weight
of all that ice, much of Antarctica's land is
actually under the current sea level. If
Antarctica melted, all of the land above sea level
would be exposed as land. Also, the loss of all
the ice weight will result in something called
isostatic rebound. This just means the
land rises after all the weight of the ice sheets
is removed. This is similar to when you sit on
a raft. As more weight is put on the raft, the
raft sinks deeper into the water, but as weight is
taken out of a raft, the raft rises back up to
where it started.
My second answer is for what happens to sea
level if Antarctica were to completely melt.
Antarctica's ice is typically divided in the West
Antarctica Ice Sheet (WAIS) and the East
Antarctica Ice Sheet (EAIS). The EAIS
covers the peninsula and is where most of the
coastal animals dwell. The EAIS receives a
lot of discussion because that is where ice is
melting the fastest and most of the land there is
under current sea level. If the EAIS
completely melted, it would raise global sea
levels by about 3.3 meters, or about 11 feet.
If that happened, it is estimated that 28,800
square miles of land, where 12.3 million people
live, would be
Most of the ice on Antarctica is actually in
the WAIS, which could lead to about 53 meters,
or 174 feet, of sea level rise. For
comparison, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse
lookout tower is only 114 feet. You can see the
National Geographic interactive map of Earth if
all the ice globally melted, at the UCSB Geography
all the ice globally melted.
Answers to a
similar question on ScienceLine cover how much
sea level rise is expected from melting of the ice
at the poles (~220 ft). I was unable to find a
number for the fraction of land which would be
lost, but the pictures in
this article by National Geographic give a
good idea of how each of the continents would be
affected by the rise in sea level due to the
melting of ALL ice on Earth (the vast majority of
which is on Antarctica).
[Additional general information on ice sheets
like those covering Antarctica and Greenland can
Maps of the earth show the land of Antarctica.
Antarctica's land area is bigger than the United
States. Ice covers almost all of Antarctica's
land and reaches far out over the ocean. So
even without the ice over the ocean, Antarctica
is very large.
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