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“40 More Maps That Explain the World”

January 19th, 2014 - 8:40 am

MELTED

I usually love these kinds of things. I collect old maps and old atlases, and not with any kind of precision or as investments. It’s just that I really like maps, so I buy a lot of maps. And whenever I see one of those click-bait articles like this one at the Washington Post — well, I’ll take the bait, every time.

Then I got down to Number 8. That’s pretty cool stuff, seeing the continents altered by rising oceans, and you can go to National Geographic to explore it more in depth. So to speak. However, Max Fisher’s accompanying text was a little much to swallow:

It’s not clear precisely when the polar ice caps will melt completely. But if and when they do, sea levels will rise by 216 feet. This map shows what the world would look like then. Given how many people live near coastlines today, that’s not good.

Now maybe Fisher didn’t quite think that first sentence through [emphasis added], but he’s stating the ice caps will melt. Period. Full stop. It’s not “clear precisely,” but it’s a “when” and not an “if.”

Because the science is settled?

Top Rated Comments   
Stephen:

Personal true story from nearly 50 years ago.

I have been a science geek from young childhood. While I was still in elementary school, my parents bought me (via subscription) the Time-Life Science and Nature Libraries, which I read (and read repeatedly). All that reading paid off when in the summer of 1967, I signed up for a summer school class in Oceanography at the high school (Grossmont) where I would be starting 9th grade in the fall. The class was taught by a visiting professor of micropaleontology (Dr. Donald A. Thompson), who was a great, if challenging and frequently sarcastic, teacher. The class members themselves ranged from incoming freshman (like myself) to outgoing seniors. Much to my surprise, by about half way through the summer term I found myself one of the top 2-3 students in the class (out of 20-30 students).

We all had to do a major project towards the end of the class, including an oral presentation of our project. My choice, believe it or not, was how sea levels would change (and what the resulting impact on continental coastlines would be) were the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps to melt. I don’t think I got more than a minute or so into my presentation when Dr. Thompson immediately challenged me to come up with any mechanism that would cause such extensive melting in anything but a geological time scale. When I tried to suggest a few — including a sharp warming of global climate — he challenged me to to do the math to figure out how much the temperature would have to increase, and for how long, to melt the amount of ice and snow I was talking about. I tried to continue by suggesting that we simply stipulate some mechanism could exist, so I could get on to describing the effects — and Dr. Thompson said, in effect, “If you don’t have a plausible mechanism, then your results are irrelevant nonsense.” I stumbled through for a few more minutes, then sat down, a bit shell-shocked.

[End of story] As it turns out, the amount of energy it would take to melt these ice caps is massive and not achievable in normal human civilization time scales -- as Jeff notes, you are talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of years, not a few decades or centuries.

But, then, math is hard, and physics even harder. ..bruce..
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (15)
All Comments   (15)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Stephen:

Personal true story from nearly 50 years ago.

I have been a science geek from young childhood. While I was still in elementary school, my parents bought me (via subscription) the Time-Life Science and Nature Libraries, which I read (and read repeatedly). All that reading paid off when in the summer of 1967, I signed up for a summer school class in Oceanography at the high school (Grossmont) where I would be starting 9th grade in the fall. The class was taught by a visiting professor of micropaleontology (Dr. Donald A. Thompson), who was a great, if challenging and frequently sarcastic, teacher. The class members themselves ranged from incoming freshman (like myself) to outgoing seniors. Much to my surprise, by about half way through the summer term I found myself one of the top 2-3 students in the class (out of 20-30 students).

We all had to do a major project towards the end of the class, including an oral presentation of our project. My choice, believe it or not, was how sea levels would change (and what the resulting impact on continental coastlines would be) were the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps to melt. I don’t think I got more than a minute or so into my presentation when Dr. Thompson immediately challenged me to come up with any mechanism that would cause such extensive melting in anything but a geological time scale. When I tried to suggest a few — including a sharp warming of global climate — he challenged me to to do the math to figure out how much the temperature would have to increase, and for how long, to melt the amount of ice and snow I was talking about. I tried to continue by suggesting that we simply stipulate some mechanism could exist, so I could get on to describing the effects — and Dr. Thompson said, in effect, “If you don’t have a plausible mechanism, then your results are irrelevant nonsense.” I stumbled through for a few more minutes, then sat down, a bit shell-shocked.

[End of story] As it turns out, the amount of energy it would take to melt these ice caps is massive and not achievable in normal human civilization time scales -- as Jeff notes, you are talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of years, not a few decades or centuries.

But, then, math is hard, and physics even harder. ..bruce..
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
As I recall, over geologic timescales polar ice caps are rather rare on Earth, so they'll eventually melt once we finally leave the interglacial period we're in now.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
If what we are in is an "interglacial period," once we leave it, the glaciers - and icecaps - won't melt, but will grow.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
It depends on how we leave the interglacial. If we slip back into another ice age then the glaciers will grow. If we head back toward the geologic mean climate the glaciers will disappear.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pretty sure I've read about sunken Etruscan and Greek cities in the pages of National Geographic years ago. What did these ancients do, just stand there and drown?

I suspect people today even in Third World countries have sense enough to move farther inland.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't ever see a statistic like this (sea levels rise 216 feet) without thinking of that middle-school science class experiment. You remember the one where one fills up the glass with ice and water, such that the ice is above the top of the glass, and then let it melt. The water does not overflow because frozen water (i.e., "ice") takes up more volume. Since MOST of Antarctic ice and ALL of the arctic ice is floating, if it all melted it would have negligible effect on sea levels.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Most of the ice in Antarctica and Greenland is continental. When it melts it will have a significant increase on sea levels. As well as the simple thermal expansion of a couple oceans' worth of water.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Except that more water in the oceans will increase downward pressure on seabed forcing it down. Correspondingly, that transition of water mass from the continents to the oceans will increase upward pressure on continental masses causing the continentals to elevate. Nature could, in fact neatly cancel out any ill effects of ice melt.

Lots of variables in play here guys.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
The area under the seabeds is significantly larger than the area under ice, which are the only regions that would experience isostatic rebound. Since the mantle is an incompressible fluid, the volume of downward displacement must be matched by the volume of the upward displacement. Either you're positing Antarctica and Greenland will become the highest points on Earth, or there isn't going to be much subsidence of the seabed.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
No. The "excess" water would be expressed globally. The oceans are in fact connected. It's a closed system. And the mantle, even if "incompressible" is displace-able. It can, and would, move. The movement would be slow to be sure. But gravity will win in the end. And, since we're talking about geologic times here, my point is valid.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your point isn't valid. Gravity isn't going to win against hydraulic pressure in the mantle, if it were we'd be a black hole by now. Adding 200' of water is going to have a negligible impact on the pressure underneath thousands of feet of the stuff at the bottom of the ocean.

All of the weight is currently sitting on top of the relatively small areas of land underneath the ice, displacing the mantle down and thus forcing other areas up. When that weight is spread over the much larger area of the sea floor Antarctica and Greenland will rise, causing other areas to fall.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
My favorite part is where they say the East Antarctic ice sheet is thickening because of global warming.

Apparently "global" doesn't mean what we think it means.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fisher's out is that he stated no time horizon. Sure, the polar caps are sure to melt entirely eventually. The sun going supernova is a surefire backstop.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Very much what I was going to say -- though the sun is too small a star to supernova. What the deep science guys say is that it will eventually expand as its fuel is used up (the deeply deep sciencey science explains how this would happen), and at some point the outer surface of the sun will intersect and surpass the orbit of our planet.

If we or our descendant species are still here when that happens, the resulting end will be more >poof< than earth-shattering kaboom.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
AHA! That proves Global Warming is real and inevitable. The UN is simply engaged in extremely long range planning - at a time scale of billions of years.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
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