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Should we be worried about polar cap melting leading to heightened sea levels?

If ice (more or less) displaces its own volume in water should we be worried about polar cap melting leading to heightened sea levels?
Quenton Steele from Devon (Age 45-54)

If volume/weight of ice displaces same volume/weight in water, won’t the sea level remain approx the same when polar ice cap melts?
Jocelyn Baines from Worcestershire (Age 45-54)

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2 Responses

  1. Yes you are partly correct…if an ice cube is placed in a glass of water and it melts, the volume of water will essentially remain the same.

    However, Antarctica (and Greenland) are continents made up of solid rock and there are large amounts of ice located above sea level (therefore not displacing an equivalent amount of water or sea). The amount of ice is suggested to be around ~2 miles thick in places.

    Subsequently, the effect of these ice masses melting would be the catalyst for major, global, sea level rise. The North Pole (and associated ice masses) are sea bound and not underlain with solid rock.

  2. It is true that when an iceberg melts in the ocean it will not cause the sea level to rise. It displaces the same volume of water that it would occupy if it melted leading to no net change in sea level on melting. Unfortunately, not all the ice on our planet is floating in the ocean. There is vast quantity of it sitting on the land, mostly on Greenland and Antarctica. When this ice melts, it will run in to the ocean and cause the sea level to rise. Not only this, but there could be huge problems associated with vast quantities of cold fresh water flowing in to our oceans. There is a possibility that the cold water could slow or even halt some of the oceanic circulations such as the Gulf Stream which keeps Western Europe warmer than countries of similar latitude such as Russia and Canada. This is an example of the way in which the climate of the planet could change very suddenly and unexpectedly. Instead of everywhere getting gradually warmer, Western Europe could very suddenly get much colder!

    The Grantham Institute is a multi-disciplinary climate change research centre at Imperial College London, focusing on producing high quality research and transferring this in to sustainable policy.

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