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When Antarctica melts, how much land will be left?
Question Date: 2019-04-17
Answer 1:

That depends on how much of the ice melts, and it depends on what else Antarctica is doing in the mean time.

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 will remain.

Answer 2:

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 Maldives.

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.

Answer 3:

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!

Answer 4:

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 under water.

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 department website: all the ice globally melted.

Answer 5:

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 be found here.]

Answer 6:

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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