Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of the book “How it works” is a member of WRAL TechWire, taking a serious as well as entertaining world of opportunities for peace and the human race. He is also the author of The Book of Judgment.
Rally – This week Will Smith hit Chris Rock at the Oscars. Everyone at work talked about it. Major media along with people on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc. wrote tens of thousands of articles and opinions about it.
Two unusual things happened in Antarctica last week that everyone should talk about. These two things act as a dark anticipation of the terrible events that will happen in the future of mankind:
- In Antarctica there was an emergency heating, where temperatures in some areas were 70 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year.
- The Konger Glacier shelf collapsed, releasing 460 square miles of ice.
Nobody mentioned it to me. Most people don’t know. Antarctica is 7,000 miles away – why would anyone in the United States care? Because this is the first shelf glacier to collapse. With the rise of these heating events, we are likely to see that other shelf glaciers are collapsing in the near future.
Unfortunately, there is one specific shelf to the huge Doomsday Glacier. If this shelf glacier collapses, it has a good chance of eventually raising the sea level by 10 feet. Think of your favorite beach. And now imagine what it will look like after the sea level rises by 10 feet. If this happens, it will lead to the destruction of a number of major coastal cities such as Miami, Boston and Shanghai. And your favorite beach will disappear.
We are talking about the collapse of large glaciers in West Antarctica. Please take the time to open a map of Antarctica (for example, see the map in this article: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51097309). West Antarctica is the left side, with the ridge of the mountains to the middle of Antarctica, which separates the east from the west. The problem with western Antarctica is that it contains giant now fragile glaciers.
The first glacier that worries us is the Tweets Glacier. Many scholars literally call it the Doomsday Glacier. It has four problems:
- As for glaciers, the Tweets Glacier is huge and is about 74,000 square miles. To put this in perspective, it’s a little bigger than Florida. That’s more than a mile on average. So we look at about 115,000 cubic miles of ice, some above the waterline and some below.
- In round numbers, a cubic mile of ice contains a trillion gallons of water. 100 cubic miles of ice above the waterline will raise sea level by a millimeter. One millimeter doesn’t sound like much until you consider the size of the glacier. Only this glacier can raise the sea level by a foot or more if it collapses.
- Glaciers are moving. Now Tweets is slowly moving toward the ocean. However, the speed of the entire glacier is accelerating, and the rate of its melting is also accelerating. Hotter planet = faster glaciers and faster melting.
- The Tweets Glacier supports other glaciers near it. For example, the Pine Island Glacier is similar in size to the Tweets Glacier, and as soon as the Tweets collapse, the Pine Island Glacier will collapse. So we don’t want the Tweets Glacier to collapse because the collapse of several other large glaciers is becoming inevitable.
The Twites Glacier Glacier is similar to the first domino in the chain. As soon as this first domino falls, the rest of the dominoes also start falling. The end result could be an almost complete collapse of the ice sheet of West Antarctica. In this scenario, the sea level rises by about 10 feet (3,000 millimeters). Although we don’t have a 100% definite way to predict what will happen because nothing like this has happened in human history, scientists have different models they can use to try to predict what will happen to this glacier. In some of these models, the combination of relatively warmer water falling under the glacier, plus the melting and collapse of the glacier shelf causes an even greater acceleration of glacier velocity, leading to a relatively rapid collapse of the Tweets Glacier.
When the sea level rises so much, two things happen. First, many coastal cities cease to exist. Miami is an example. The whole city falls under the water and it is lost. Second, it greatly exacerbates storm surges. For example, the edges of Manhattan are lost when sea levels rise 10 feet, but not the entire city. The problem arises when a big storm (hurricane, nor’easter, etc.) breaks off on a city and sends a storm surge to the city center.
The most important question is: what should humanity do now to try to prevent this future? And then, depending on what actions humanity is taking, what is the real time of the development? Has this doomsday scenario unfolded over decades, or does it take a hundred years?
If humanity were a rational species, then we would try to solve the problem of the Tweets Glacier with the utmost effort. If the sea level rises by 10 feet in a relatively short time, then:
- Hundreds of millions of people will be evicted from flooded coastal cities.
- Dozens of large coastal cities along with hundreds of small towns and villages will be destroyed.
- Trillions of dollars of infrastructure will be lost.
- All existing beaches around the world will disappear.
The only good news is that some of the solutions to the Tweet problem, if implemented, will benefit other parts of the planet by preventing or slowing down other effects of climate change.
Obvious steps that humanity needs to take to address the Tweets Glacier include:
- Mankind needs to stop burning fossil fuels immediately. If we do, we will take a big step forward in addressing other climate change issues.
- Mankind needs to extract CO2 from the atmosphere on a global scale.
- Mankind needs to not just stop, but turn back the destruction of tropical forests to restore them. If tropical forests are destroyed, they will release huge amounts of new CO2 into the atmosphere, which will significantly worsen the situation.
- Mankind needs to develop and implement geoengineering projects that would slow down the collapse of the Twain Glacier.
Will humanity as a whole be able to do anything about climate change and take these four steps? Can our species really come together and make global decisions that will benefit the entire planet? We will be able to observe in real time and see how these events unfold. If people were fascinated by climate change, like the fact that Will Smith hit Chris Rock, we could have a chance to tackle climate change.
More from Marshall Brain:
The doomsday scenario is unfolding in Ukraine, and we are watching it live
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Marshall Brain: Will we cure cancer?