According to a study released on September 11, if all of Earth’s remaining fossil fuels, including hard to access reserves of shale coal and tar-sand oil, were burned, it would create enough emissions to melt the Antarctic icecap and raise the level of the oceans by 100 to 200 feet.
The international study, co-authored by Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution of Science, used a more detailed model of environmental effects than previous ones.
Our findings show that if we do not want to melt Antarctica, we can’t keep taking fossil fuel carbon out of the ground and just dumping it into the atmosphere as CO2 like we’ve been doing.
The study showed that the release of ten trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the estimated emissions of all fossil fuels, would make temperatures soar, melting off not only the Antarctic icecap, but the arctic and the ice packs on Greenland, as well. Study co-author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, wrote in the abstract:
We show in simulations using the Parallel Ice Sheet Model that burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the ice sheet. With cumulative fossil fuel emissions of 10,000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC), Antarctica is projected to become almost ice-free with an average contribution to sea-level rise exceeding 3 meters per century during the first millennium.
Although the likelihood of burning all fossil fuels is remote, the study does support the NASA research done over the summer that warned of an increase in the melting of the ice caps. This research suggests that melting polar and Greenland ice is only part of the problem. The temperature of the ocean and global warming are contributing to the loss of the ice sheets.
Although the study looked at the worst-case scenario, it also shows that the increasing use of fossil fuels will contribute to a steady increase in global temperatures that will put the Antarctic ice cap at risk.
“This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it, and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come. If we want to avoid Antarctica to become ice-free, we need to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground,” Winkelmann told EurekAlert.