Melting ice sheets could raise sea levels high enough to flood coastal areas around the globe by the end of the century, according to scientists gathering in Denmark today for a three-day climate-change conference. The phenomenon could affect regions including Florida, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, the British Guardian newspaper reports.
The meeting, which brings 2,000 scientists to Copenhagen, is a run-up to December's international climate talks, where officials are set to draft a successor to the Kyoto treaty to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Experts will also update the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released its findings on global warming two years ago. Some of that new information centers on the effects of glacier melts in Greenland and Antarctica.
"It is now clear that there are going to be massive flooding disasters around the globe," David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey told the Guardian. "Populations are shifting to the coast, which means that more and more people are going to be threatened by sea-level rises."
Not only are ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica breaking up faster than scientists expected, but more of their melt water is flowing into oceans, he said, which will raise sea levels by 3.3 feet (1 meter) by 2100. The IPCC previously estimated that sea levels would rise by 7.9 to 23.6 inches (20 to 60 centimeters) by then.
The meeting coincides with a gathering of climate change skeptics in New York City, who are debating topics like "Global warming: Was it ever a crisis?" "The only place where this alleged climate catastrophe is happening is in the virtual world of computer models, not in the real world,” Marc Morano, a spokesperson on environmental issues for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and speaker at the Heartland Institute meeting, told the New York Times. You can read our coverage of last year's confab, including participants' claim that the real threat of climate change is to polar bears. And find out why monitoring Antarctic ice melts is tricky business.
Image of Greenland ice sheet/Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research via Wikimedia Commons