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Climate Change»Climate Change Could Alter Earth's Gravity

»Monday, May 18,2009

New scientific data has highlighted the potential impact of ice melts on the Earth, explaining how the planet’s gravitational field would be altered to the extent that tides would rise more quickly.

The effect would be especially felt in the US, whose East and West coasts would witness sea level rises 25 per cent over the average and, thus, the likes of San Francisco and New York would flood significantly.

Earth's Gravitational Field

The data formed part of a new study focusing on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and how climate change would impact on it.  The study discovered that, once the ice sheet had broken up, the Earth’s gravitational field would shift, causing sea level rises to become particularly forceful around the US. 

The same study, however, also reported on how, in general, sea level rises were not on track to reach the peaks once predicted.  This is due to the relative stability of certain sections of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, meaning that, once climate change had really taken hold, they would likely remain above water. 

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is one of a trio of major global ice sheets – the other two being in East Antarctica and Greenland.  A common term applied to it is the “sleeping giant” – a reference to its presumed, natural instability and the fact that the majority of it is not visible. 

“Unlike the world's other major ice sheets – the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland – the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the only one with such an unstable configuration”, one of the researchers involved in the study, Bristol University’s Professor Jonathan Bamber, explained.

He continued: “There's a vast body of research that's looked at the likelihood of an ice sheet collapse and what implications such a catastrophic event would have for the globe.  But all of these studies have assumed a five- or six-metre contribution to sea level rise.

“Our calculations show those estimates are much too large, even on a 1,000-year timescale.”

Global Sea Level Rise

A more realistic proposition, according to the study, would be a contribution to global sea level rise of around 3.3 metres.  However, explained Professor Bamber:  “The pattern of sea level rise is independent of how fast or how much of the ice sheet collapses.

“Even if it contributed only a metre of sea level rise over many years, sea levels along North America's shorelines would still increase 25 per cent more than the global average.”




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