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The Rising Tides -- Melting Ice Sheets and Cities Under Water

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You’ve heard it all before and never given it much thought, but with all of the heavy press lately about the ice sheets in Antarctica melting to the point of no return, what’s in store for Los Angeles and other coastal cities is in everyone’s minds?Last week NASA released a new study on the state of Antarctic glaciers and the news was not at all good. Revealing even more about the impact of climate change on the world we live in, the NASA research now shows that a major section of west Antarctica's ice sheet will completely melt in coming centuries. The result of this will probably raise sea levels even higher than previously predicted.

According to Eric Rignot - NASA glaciologist and lead author of a joint NASA-University of California Irvine report, warm ocean currents and geographic peculiarities have helped kick off a chain reaction at the Amundsen Sea-area glaciers, melting them faster than previously realized and pushing them "past the point of no return." In this latest study, NASA has reported that the region has enough ice to raise global sea levels by 4 feet.

And while conservative estimates indicate the Antarctic’s ice cited in the study could take several centuries to melt completely, scientists such as geosciences professor Sridhar Anandakrishnan at the Pennsylvania State University, feel strongly that the current rate of melting could severely impact our more immediate lives over the next century. Sited in the United Nations’ most recent climate change report, it was estimated that sea level could rise from between 1-3 feet by 2100. A rise of this magnitude could displace tens of millions of people from coastal areas around the world, and this would take place even at below the now estimated 4 feet according to the new information sited in the NASA report. Anandakrishnan said the U.N. estimate largely didn't take into account the melting ice sheet from west Antarctica, "So as this paper and others come out, the (U.N.) numbers for 2100 will almost certainly" lean closer to 3 feet or more.”

The scariest part of a report like this, is the fact that more and more scientists are beginning to talk about certain climate change issues being “unstoppable”. What we have done in so short an amount of time has had rapid effect on our global environment that are already showing the consequences of our actions. "It does seem to be happening quickly," said Ian Joughin, a University of Washington glaciologist. "We really are witnessing the beginning stages." Confirming long held suspicions that much of this has been cause by man-made global warming and the ozone hole having changed the Antarctic winds and warmer waters rapidly eating away at the the ice, NASA researchers spoke out at a news conference last Monday.

So why do scientists think it's unstoppable?

"The system is in sort of a chain reaction that is unstoppable," said Rignot, "Every process in this reaction is feeding the next one. Curbing emissions from fossil fuels to slow climate change will probably not halt the melting but it could slow the speed of the problem."

Several scientists, including Rignot, who also is a scientist at the University of California Irvine, agree that the "grounding line" which could be thought of as a dam that stops glacier retreat, has largely been breached. “The only thing that could potentially stop the ice’s retreat in this low-altitude region is a mountain or hill. And there is none. Another way to think of it is like wine flowing from a horizontal uncorked bottle”, Rigot said.

While there are many climate change skeptics out there seeking to undermine research findings on the impacts of global warming, many backed by huge corporations with vested interests in keeping the status quo, scientific validation of climate change and the role of human-produced pollution in contributing to it, are no longer a subject in question. Skeptics may point to the fact that the evidence of increasing Antarctic sea ice defies the claims by scientists of a warming planet, but scientists such as Rignot and Anandakrishnan point to the fact that their findings on the west Antarctica ice shelf don't clash with news of the record levels of Antarctic sea ice. In fact, it is known that sea ice forms and melts quickly, while glaciers are subject to longer-term change and Rignot added, when asked, responded that the same winds that stir subsurface heat toward the base of Antarctic ice shelf also can expand sea ice cover.

So, what does this mean for us? And how could this impact your life?

It cannot be argued that words on paper often don’t sink in nearly as well as the visual impact of seeing it in pictures. We’ve all seen the climate change disaster movies and heard the echoes and what-ifs the oceans flooded the shores, but typically we answer…”Not in my lifetime”. That’s all out there.

Well I tripped over two very impressive visual ideations on how some of our iconic US cities might look as the tides rise and the coastal zones diminish. Discovery News published what some of the top coastal cities would look like as the shores give way to the sea and in a stunning time-lapsed pictorial journey, the nonprofit group Climate Central released photorealistic images created by Nickolay Lamm of our Los Angeles/ Santa Monica coast. Take a look at what your children and grandchildren might experience as you look at iconic Venice Beach and our very own Abbot Kinney Boulevard becoming submerged below the ocean in this companion series of slides as the waters rise.

Hope you don't have water front property, but if you do…maybe it is time to consider doing a bit more to help slow down climate change impact so that science and innovation have time to come up with potential solutions.

There’s still time if we take action now!

Click on the Slide Show and Learn More.

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