Why does it matter if all the ice melts anyway?

The Larsen C Ice Shelf. Source: BBC from NASA

Scientists say that the effect of climate change will be most seen in the polar regions. The ice will melt, sea levels will rise and temperatures will increase.

A number of ice shelves have cracked or become much smaller over the last few decades. A crack in the Larsen C ice shelf, shown above, will create a giant iceberg in the Antarctic when it breaks.

Water levels could rise by 40cm to 80cm, with a central estimate of 60cm by 2100, according to the IPCC.

A small rise in sea levels can have a big impact on coastal areas. Salt water can cause erosion, flooding, contaminate drinking water and soil and destroy habitats.

The ice also helps keep our planet cool. All that white ice reflects back 80% of the sun’s energy that falls on it.

It also takes 81 times as much energy to melt ice as it does to raise the temperature of the same amount of water by one degree.

So, once the ice is all gone, there is nothing stopping the sun from heating up the dark oceans.

All that extra heat, without the cooling ice, means drought in continental areas and a loss of food production, leading to famine in parts of the world least able to cope.

To return to pre-industrial temperatures, all that ice needs to freeze again, which means the heat in the water needs to be taken out first – adding to the heat in the atmosphere.

Warmer oceans occupying more volume mean that storms are going to be bigger and more powerful.

Hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis will be harsher, more violent and reach further inland, washing away everything in their path.

Hundreds of millions of people will need to move, leaving their homes and moving inland and uphill.

Low lying islands will be submerged entirely.

So, the problem is that a small change in the polar climate – and the melting of the ice could have a devastating impact on the rest of the world, well beyond just the increase in sea levels.

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